Category Archives: Reflections

HeyDahls: Detox Culture and Old-Timey Wisdom

Q: Hey girl!! I’m starting a one month clean eating / detox on Sep 30 and wondering if you have any tips / recipes to share for kapha dosha. Trying to stick to Ayurvedic diet, and would really appreciate help!! Feeling a little overwhelmed- have looked online for recipes but still would be nice to have a little guidance.


A: Heeeyyyybooooooheeeeyyyy!

I admire your determination and courage to take on a 30 day clean eating challenge.  And the shift in season, from summer to fall/winter is a great time to do take on an intentional shift in eating patterns and prepare the body for the season ahead.

Many of our ancestors share this ritual of cleansing, fasting, or detoxing during seasonal shifts into Spring or Fall. This ancestral theme of purification in anticipation of the shift provides physical and spiriutal context for how our bodies fit into nature.

It’s how they observed of a natural order of things: Kept physically balanced and strong, and perhaps even placated the gods and bargained with them for a good harvest year or safe passage into cold winter days

Very cool indeed.

Greens for the Week: Chard, Kale, Dandelion

Greens for the Week: Chard, Kale, Dandelion

A Note on Detox Culture

Can I confess something?  I’ve always been wary, even downright cynical about detox culture in the West. Perhaps because it has been co-opted by the very diet and fitness industry that is intent on keeping consumers confused and unhealthy.  

There is a lot of money to be made in playing into the unhealthy binge-purge paradigm that dominates American diet culture.  The supplement and juice companies that dominate the ‘detox’ industry, peddle their products and ultimately train people out of their intuition around healthy lifestyle.

I once participated in a 21-day detox program that a colleague ran out of the acupuncture clinic where I used to practice.  He followed a protocol created by a major supplement company in which I and fellow participants were put on a regimen of the company’s products. Boxes and boxes of capsules, chalky powders to put in shakes and smoothies… I thought to myself, ain’t nothing natural about this shit.

Sure the substances went to work on my digestive system, but I’m not sure I learned anything about how to transition back into everyday rhythms, the long haul process of healthy eating and lifestyle. So I’m glad you are doing a detox that is grounded in Ayurveda, the indigenous medical tradition from the Indian subcontinent, the sister science to yoga.

A little about Ayurveda…

Ayurveda translates to the ‘science of life’  from the original Sanskrit and examines the interplay of the three doshas – or elements- in attuning the individual to their environments and creating equilibrium, based on:

  • Climate
  • Season of the year (Spring, Summer, Winter)
  • Season of life (Childhood, Middle age, Old age)
  • And unique body constitution (Is an individual naturally more more fiery and run hot? Relaxed and more grounded? Flighty and more creative?)

10418141_839087072812852_477884917339161169_n What I love about Ayuveda is that it honors the interplay of these elements both within and outside of us.

We all have the three doshas – Kapha (water and earth), Pitta (fire), and Vatta (Air/Ether) – inside of us in varying degrees.

And based on our unique body compositions, and where we are on the earth, or our season of life, or lifestyles, one or two elements can be more dominant. And our diet and lifestyle choices can bring these elements into balance.

A little backgrounder:

Kapha: Foundation for Growth, Fertility and Stability

  • Element: Water/Earth
  • Season in Nature: Spring
  • Season of Life: Birth- Adolescence
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 1st (root) and 2nd (pelvic)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Rainy, Congested, Muddy
  • In people: Tranquil, Steady, Slow, Easy-going, Heavy;  Tend to hold onto water/bloating
    • When in balance: Good athletes (strong/steady), Generous, Tranquil
    • When out of Balance: Depressed, Lethargic, Overweight

Foods:

  • Kapha-Producing Foods: Salty, Sweet, Sour;  Comfort Foods, Heavy Carbs
  • Antidote Foods: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent; Fat Emulsifying Sprouts, Berries, dark leafy greens, bitter roots
doshas

Source: Ayurvedadosha.org

Pitta: Foundation for Power, Action, Confidence

  • Element: Fire
  • Season in Nature: Summer
  • Season of Life: Adolescence- Middle Age
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 3rd (digestive) and 4th (heart)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Hot, Dry, Oily
  • In people: Dense, Muscular, Sharp, Ambitious
    • When in balance: Good leaders, Driven, Competitive… Make shit happen
    • When out of Balance: Easily Irritable, Angry, Inflamed Skin and Digestion

Foods:

  • Pitta-Producing Foods: Hot, Spicy
  • Antidote Foods: Raw Cooling Veggies, Fruits, Dairy

Vatta: Foundation for Spiritual, Creative Growth, Inspiration

  • Element: Air, Ether
  • Season in Nature: Winter
  • Season of Life: Middle Age – Old Age
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 4th (heart), 5th (throat), 6th (third eye)  7th (crown)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Cold, Dry
  • In people: Thin, Frail, Flexible
    • When in balance: Good artists, creative, spiritually connected… transcendent
    • When out of Balance: Easily anxious, Flighty, Prone to Addiction/Self destruction, Constipation and dry skin

Foods:

  • Vatta-Producing Foods: Light Carbs, Salads
  • Antidote Foods: Warming fatty protein, Grounding Soups and Stews, Root Veggies, Cooked Veggies

Wanna learn more?  Find out your doshas here.

So back to you and an Ayurvedic Detox…

If you are Kapha-dominant, think foods that are fat-emulsifying and break down excess water and phlegm. Bitter, Pungent, Astringent flavor profiles.

DARK LEAFY GREENS!  Ideally cooked for increased digestibility.  Dandelion greens are especially detoxifying.

And do keep in mind that we are entering into the season of Vatta – Fall & Winter- so you will need more warming, grounding, lubricating foods to keep you balanced and strong for the season.

Think Root Veggies… all of them. Roasted, Soups, Purees, Mashed. Enjoy! 1476438_809898185468_182393441_n And the traditional Ayurvedic ‘detox’ regimen is Panchakarma, which includes Ayurvedic massage and oil treatments, and clean diet.

From what I understand, the panchakarma cleanse prescribes an easily digestible  mono-diet of kitchari, traditional porridge made of lentils or mung beans and rice. Now, purists say that kitchari ought to be made with white rice, but I’ll always find occasions for using whole grains like brown rice. Check out my recipe.

I don’t know how strict your cleanse is, but in general, I would say to avoid inflammatory, acid-producing foods like sugars and refined carbohydrates – that includes breads, pastas, cereals, and crackers. Opt instead for *whole* grains. Magnet (1) I’ve got a formula to help you with getting in dark leafy greens and whole grains into every meal.

OH! And apples. Nature provides us apples a plenty this time of year to clean out the digestive tract. So skip the juice, and chomp into real deal freshly harvested apples- with all that gut-restoring fiber to detox naturally.

And of course… Eat. Real. Food. Now that’s old-timey.

Get Rhythm

My Lukah love in his element

My Lukah love in his element

Have I ever told you the story of how I started my morning meditation practice?

Back when I lived in Adams Morgan, right next to the dog park there, my dog Lukah and I would go down every morning where he would play with all of his puppy friends and I’d socialize with my dog park crew.

If ever we didn’t make it down one morning, well, I’d surely hear about it the next day.

“Where was Lukah?” my dog park friends would demand to know.

They would then offer to take him out if ever I wasn’t able to make it to regular morning meet up. I cherished the community.

But we couldn’t stay. We were chased out by ghosts.  You see, the place we lived in was haunted. 10176209_833991018238_7711189428905669984_n From the bones of those buried and since moved from the historic African American cemetery on which the property was built.

To spells cast by the fortune tellers who lived and operated their palmistry business out of the apartment in which we lived back in the 70s.

To the walking dead, an abusive ex-husband, haunting at our door. 1176344_841828841178_8834787348450270886_n So we moved to Shaw where I could be closer to the acupuncture clinic where I practiced at the time.

Lukah passed away very suddenly three months later.  From the minute I noticed something was wrong, to when he passed, it was 15 minutes.  I still don’t know what took him. He was such a rockstar.  He went out the way most people want to. Quickly in the arms of the person who loved him the most.

945794_668980435981_1738256748_n (3) When I woke up the morning after, and for weeks later… I didn’t know what to do.

He was my morning practice. My devotional practice. The one true constant, and source of unconditional love, in my life in DC. Every morning for 7 years I got up, no matter what was going on in my life and no matter how uncertain life could be, I got up for him.

“Well, what the fuck do I do now?!” I thought to myself…

So I tried to meditate. To show up and hold space for and with myself.  To be still.

And it was terrifying.

I committed to try 10 full breaths every morning. In the first couple of days, by the time I got my third breath, it was nothing short of a full blown panic attack. Staring into what felt like the vast emptiness of the human experience.

10494658_10204174141656431_5766129537041386271_n (1) I had been teaching yoga for almost six years at this point but never truly meditated.

And while it was terrifying I continued to show up. Consistently. Imperfectly. Every day. Just 10 full breaths. I programmed rhythm.

Eventually I was able to sit still for those 10 breaths. About a minute and half. And eventually those 10 breaths became five minutes. And 10 minutes. And 45 minutes. And sometimes, even still, it’s simply those 10 full breaths before I have to bounce out the door.

964130_766417176758_352589557_o It’s the practice of cultivating energy, as one yoga teacher friend explained, instead of expending it. Everything in our lives calls us outside of ourselves, to give at our own expense. While I can’t control what happens when I step out of the door in the morning, I can certainly create space for myself and program rhythm in how my day starts and ends.  

And I can choose to rechannel all that energy, all that care I devoted to Lukah, towards myself. I’ve intentionally kept that space open. 1040855_755502569718_1033326485_o So fast forward to present… two Sundays ago I was lucky enough to partner with Eric Schwarz, DC’s Best Yoga Teacher to lead our first Live Deliciously Day Retreat.

And it was nothing short of magical. An immersion in programming healthy rhythm. Silent hike, meditation on islands in the stream, reflection on self care rhythm, and an incredible yoga class and healthy picnic under open sky and trees.  

Eric brought his dog Lucas. 13962737_10104033512360987_7729219215510557712_n I walked participants through trails Lukah and I would venture to every weekend.

I told the story of how I began my morning meditation practice. Breathing into loss and creating space for conscious connection. And the storytelling created space for participants to probe into their own lifestyle patterns.

And the river washed over. 13912662_730292310436283_6669655829697252886_n

Rediscovering Home

Joys of Home: the newest FarMar in my hood!

Joys of Home: the newest FarMar in my hood!

I’ve been back in the District for just over a month now, settling back into the rhythms of home.

And it has been quite the journey home via the Mediterranean and South Africa, to finally be at peace establishing roots here.

You see, I’ve always been reluctant, even after 11 (!) years, to claim the District as home. I still have a Jersey driver’s license.

Like many people who first come to DC, I came as an idealist, to pursue a career in Middle East peacebuilding.

Many folks who’ve come here with their own ‘Save the World’ story have moved on. Perhaps to the thrills of the ex-pat life abroad. Or to throw down roots in their hometowns and start families with 2.5 kids. Or grad school. Or whatever.  Many friends, come and gone.

What remains at the surface is a transient town consumed with status and power, of drunk  dudes in bad suits at happy hour.  At the surface that is… but that’s not my DC.

As I’ve settled back in, I’ve not only immersed in the communities of friends, mentors, and clients who inspire and ground me, but have cultivated renewed gratitude for the intentional home of my creation. Where I can celebrate the DC Pride Parade and easily transition to a Ramadan Iftar in the same weekend.

On a recent episode of Synchronicity with Noah Lampert, one of my favorite podcasts these days, guest Mikey Kampmann posited that home is the feeling of being at ease with your own self.  To stop bracing and let your guard down.

Check it! Yoga in my Neighborhood Park on Saturdays

Check it! Yoga in my Neighborhood Park on Summer Saturdays mornings

And here I am.  Finding home in my own path and career in nutrition and yoga, working with folks to create space in their lives for their physical and emotional health amidst the DC hustle.

And I’ve rediscovered the true joy of teaching yoga and coaching nutrition clients. And simply being present.

And what a fine, blessed place to be.

Catch me on the mat and enjoy these summer days.

 

 

 

Indulgence, A Practice

A hike up Lion's Head Mountain in Cape Town

A Hike up Lion’s Head

A healthy lifestyle is a funny thing.  It is constant work- riding the ebbs and flows of life with self-respect and self-compassion.

Giving yourself permission to indulge – and fall apart at times – and pick yourself back up and return to a healthy rhythm. Without guilt. Without shame. Moving on.

I just came back from a beautiful three week trip in South Africa.

I went to see about a man and explore a life together.

We met five months prior under a full moon on an unseasonably balmy Christmas Eve in the District.  He brought the South African Christmas with him.

On our first date I tell him my spirit animal is a peacock. Without skipping a beat, he informs me that he is a snow leopard, and furnishes his phone, with a wallpaper image of the famously elusive Himalayan creature for proof.

When I visit him in his native Cape Town, I do my best to create space for myself in his world and on the road, tending to my rhythm and healthy lifestyle practices.

Even as we journeyed into AfrikaBurn, the largest regional Burning Man event in the world outside of Black Rock City, I managed to stick with my meditation, yoga, and healthy eating. I brought kale and quinoa with me into the desert.

Ultimately I discover he was not the man I thought he was. While he was a true love of mine, I would have had to shrink to fit. And lose myself to be by his side.

But no regrets. It was a tremendous experience in the practice of living and loving in earnest. If I didn’t make the trip and explore the connection, it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.

It brought me to a stunningly beautiful corner of the world where I walked down some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever encountered and hiked up two mountains. I immersed in the creativity and generosity of the human spirit and made new friends.

And I continue to discover how strong I am.

One day, the Snow Leopard chapter of my life will make a fine short story in the Peacock Chronicles. But for now, back Stateside, I’m allowing myself to heal and restore.

I’ve reconnected with my self-care rituals and retreated into my tribe of friends, mentors and clients.

I’ve also allowed myself to unravel into the requisite comfort foods of the break up diet.  Lots of it.

On a Saturday night, I had eggrolls and a Snickers bar for dinner. And nutella sandwiches before noon the next day. And continued to indulge in unholy amounts of fried chicken, and cheeses and breads, and all of the sweets at a friend’s birthday party.

By the time I taught my Sunday evening yoga class, my belly was so bloated I could barely demonstrate a forward fold.

And it’s fine. It’s the practice of allowing ourselves to be human. In which we ebb and flow and ride the joys and disappointments of life. And pick ourselves back up again and move forward.

After all, the pursuit of perfection is ultimately rooted in shame… the inability to be human.

And so on this Monday, I am happy to start the week returning back to my healthy eating practice.  For now, it starts with buying three dark leafy greens from the market for meal planning this week.

And all is coming.

A Woman’s Work… And Care

tagine

It is said that when a woman cooks, she transmits her magic through her fingertips and into her dishes to nourish her loved ones.

It’s Women’s History Month and at Bazaar Spices, we’re honoring the women who have been custodians, the firekeepers, of the tradition of home cooking, an everyday practice in health and creativity.

When folks ask how I got into cooking, I tell a familiar story. The love affair started when I was young. From the time I was six or seven, I followed my mom and other women in my family around the kitchen. I learned their secrets through whispers and winks and hands-on practice.

Most celebrity chefs, typically men, will recall a similar experience. It started with their mothers and grandmothers who nurtured their culinary skills and creativity. And the practice took on a professional edge as they left their home kitchens and journeyed into ‘the industry’. It became an art form.

And how fascinating. How we place value on work, particularly work in the kitchen, based on gender and sphere. That is to say, domestic and professional spheres.

When a man takes on a culinary practice, his work is art – an extension of his creative power and bravado even.

When a woman cooks, it is typically part of the conscripted, unpaid care economy. And often a thankless task.

It is no wonder that so many women I meet in my nutrition work have a conflicted, estranged relationship with the art of home cooking.

Many of us grow up watching our mothers toiling away in the kitchen, even if they just came home from a full day’s work, to have their work at home taken for granted. Many of us had promised ourselves at a young age that we, and our work, will not be taken for granted.

And for that reason perhaps, so many women grow up resenting or not knowing how to cook.

So by the time many of us are trying to ‘get healthy’ and make the ‘right’ food choices, we’re missing perhaps the most valuable tool in order to do that.

Cooking is such a critical component of self-care and health. As Shereen Malak, one of my mentors in Cairo says, when we take responsibility for sourcing and preparing our food, we begin to take responsibility for all sorts of things in our lives.

Home cooking is a healing medium of care, for oneself, and yes, those lucky enough to be around us. It’s an everyday practice in creativity, nourishment, and magic.

So what if this month, we as women resolve to celebrate the culinary traditions of home, honoring them as the ultimate practice of self-care. What if we resolve to make ourselves healthy, nourishing, exciting meals, even if it’s just us, and no one else is watching?

And let’s be honest, for many of the single women of District, it usually is ‘just’ us.

Perhaps we can use our culinary magic to nourish ourselves first and foremost… and roll our eyes at the traditional male gaze… and appetites.

And here’s the thing ladies. It’s not hard to consistently prepare healthy, exciting meals – for yourself, for your loved ones. There’s a formula. It just requires a little rhythm. A little planning. Not too much planning though. That’s no fun.

LD101_BazaarSpices

Here’s a hint… A robust spice collection is a fantastic way keep simple healthy cooking exciting and fun.

And wouldn’t you know, we just happen to be offering Live Deliciously 101, my crash course in healthy eating with Mediterranean sensibilities and formulas, this month at the new Bazaar Spices location at the Atlantic Plumbing building. Check it 

 

Creating Paradise

جنة بغير ناس ما تنداس

“If you encounter Paradise and no one is inside, don’t enter…”

Paradise-Wallpaper-Full-HD1-300x187

In my time in Egypt thus far, I’m learning personal space is hard to come by.. Indeed it’s a luxury afforded to few, especially women.

I’ve been truly blessed to retreat into the love and generosity of my family here. Reconnecting after eight years or more, they have offered sumptuous feasts, patience and encouragement in practicing my Arabic, and facilitation in making this journey possible. The unplanned sacred moments following them to the Sea and storytelling along the way. And protection… even when I don’t want it.

The project of negotiating space for myself – space in my belly to breath between second and third helpings of meals, space for physical exercise (certainly in the way the works best for me in walking and biking outside), space when I’m not teaching or meeting with colleagues to socialize and adventure outside out the house – has proven challenging at times.

I followed their lead, from the ablutions, to the cycles of kneeling and prostrating that are strikingly reminiscent of a yogic sun salutation.

My first day in Cairo, catching up with my aunts, we talked about my work and the practice of cultivating health and fulfillment… I thought of people who are dear to me that work towards a certain image of success- the big house and flashy cars –  but lack the relationships to fill them.

Immediately one aunt recalled an Arabic adage: “If you encounter Paradise and no one is inside, don’t enter”

An ENFP to the core, I could totally appreciate it.  Where would I be without my tribe of mystics and misfits?

The next morning, as I sat in my regular morning meditation practice, they quietly tiptoed around me… not understanding what I was doing but intuitively understanding that I was holding a sacred space.

Yoga is not a religion but the science of inviting in the presence of the divine.

When I finished, they invited me to join the family one of the five daily Muslim prayers.  I very much anchor my spiritual identity as a Muslim but I’m not traditionally observant. In that moment however, it felt comforting and familiar to be immersed the community of a ritual I hadn’t practiced for so long.

Rusty, I followed their lead, from the ablutions, to the cycles of kneeling and prostrating that are strikingly reminiscent of a yogic sun salutation.

After prayer one aunt asked why I meditated. She inquired into Hindu and Buddhist origins of yoga. Why couldn’t I just pray? I’m Muslim after all, and prayer is one of the five pillars.

Meditation and yoga, I explained, is not a religion unto itself but the science of inviting in the presence of the divine into the physical body…My meditation practice, I continued, was intensely personal for me and prayer couldn’t override and replace it.

Ramadan is a communal covenant and celebration of devotion.

Next morning, my aunt and I got into a flare of emotions when I was expected to again join them for prayer.  Truth is … I couldn’t recall all the necessary recitations for prayer and resented the expectation that I would have to.

Why, I argued, is it religiously significant for me to pray with them if the pressure is coming from outside.  What does it matter if I’m just going through the motions?

Her face betrayed legitimate confusion and heartbreak.  “Dahlia, I want to see you in Heaven” she says, pleading in earnest.

“I know…”  I know culturally for her, she truly believes she is not doing her work as a Muslim if she is not trying to steer those around her towards the path to God as she understands it. I again joined them in prayer.

For the rest of my time with them, they never asked me to join them again in prayer. Instead before breakfast, my aunts would remind me to meditate.

We need community for our path. We are social animals and meant to exist in connection with one another. It’s when we come alive. And Ramadan in the Middle East is a nothing short of a communal covenant in ritual observance and celebration of devotion.

But certainly there is space for personal devotion. Space for individual cultivation of what it means to be connected to something greater outside of ourselves… whatever its form.

There is space for all of us.  If only we insist on it.

Mama Wagida’s Macarona Beshamel

mamawagida

My grandmother, early 1940s

Did I ever tell you about the last time I was in Egypt?  It was 2007.

I was with my mom in Alexandria.  Hanging out with my grandma – Mama Wagida – in her classical Alexandrian four bedroom apartment, the home in which my mom and her four silblings grew up just blocks from the Mediterranean.  This apartment: its history, its high ceilings and a balcony that wrapped around and offered a generous view of the Sea…   Nothing felt at once more romantic and sacred.   From that balcony, my aunt Suzie who lives there with her daughter Sara, would use the hand-drawn dumb waiter basket and pull up fresh fruit and nuts from wandering street merchants baying below.

I always enjoyed the time I spent with my grandma growing up. My parents were always so busy working that we never went back to Egypt.  Instead Mama Wagida and other relatives would come stay with us in Jersey for weeks and months at a time.

“I inherited her laugh- a distinctively high pitched giggle that can quickly escalate to a belly-fueled cackle.”

Connection was easy then.  In fact, she was the relative with which I most shared resemblance.  I inherited her light brown hair (blonde for Egypt) and hazel eyes. I inherited her laugh- a distinctively high pitched giggle that can quickly escalate to a belly-fueled cackle. Mama Wagida and I would draw and read and cook together.  I never remember a language barrier when I look back to those childhood memories.

But soon with her health it became harder and harder for her to visit.  Her last time perhaps I was in middle school.  And I didn’t visit Egypt for the first time until I was in college.

And now two years out of school and establishing a career in DC doing Middle East work, struggling with my command of Arabic all the while, the connection was harder.  The language barrier was much more obvious as an adult.

“Everything was cumin-scented…”

So often she would feed me. Pan seared filets of fish that we purchased from the fishmongers in market that morning. Egyptian stews of veggies and legumes in rich garlicky tomato broths served over fluffy rice with sauteed vermicelli noodles. Lentils simmered in cumin and served with fresh pita, soft feta cheese, and tomato-cucumber salad.  Everything was cumin scented: In fact her salt shakers had whole cumin seeds (instead of the more common grains of rice) to absorb the Mediterranean humidity.  She proudly offered cooking demonstrations, revealing her culinary secrets, even as she struggled to stand.  Her kitchen was the only space in which we transcended language barriers- made imperceptible and irrelevant.

We would sit in front of the TV and watch the state-run news together if we couldn’t find a good soap opera.

“Sssssssssss!!!! Da Buuush! Huwa Wisikh!!!!.” (Read: he’s bad news bears…) she would hiss to me when our 43rd American President came on the TV. “BAD!” She would quickly follow with translation.  I would emphatically nod in agreement, perhaps even throw in an “Aiwa” (Egyptian colloquial for ‘yes’).

President Mubarak would come on and she’d approvingly gesture towards him “Huwa Halweh” (Read: he’s good/sweet). I would politely nod.  Like many grandmas she didn’t go out much these days.

 

mamawagida&gidusaad

My grandmother and grandfather, mid 1940s (they married in 1946)

She proudly displayed photographs of my grandfather, Saad El-Din Hafiz, a high ranking Naval Officer, known for his humility and pragmatism, who would ultimately rise to lead Egypt’s Naval Academy in Alexandria.  I remember one image of him walking side-by-side on a tarmac with President Gamal Abdel Nasser, father of the modern Egyptian republic and military rule.  In her Egypt, the military was a proud institution that was revolutionizing the Arab world.

In one of our last dinners together she was preparing for the arrival of my older brother Ashraf and his growing family.  My niece Lily at the time was less than two years old and he and his wife Diane were expecting Kate in just a couple months.

It was finally time to prepare the Macarona Beshamel- a pillar of Egyptian comfort food.  Descending from French colonial influence and spreading in Egyptian kitchens like wildfire,  this dish is traditionally a casserole with its namesake rich white sauce, baked in a thick layer over pasta in a rich tomato-based meat sauce encased in crispy buttery breadcrumbs. Egyptian indulgence at its finest.

“As she melted the semna (ghee or clarified butter) in the pan, she smiled at me with a particular hint of culinary conspiracy in her eyes. “

She knew how badly I wanted to watch her prepare it… It was a hot summer and she waited for the right company.

I stood in the kitchen as she prepared the roux base (equal parts flour and fat) for the beshamel. As she melted the semna (ghee or clarified butter) in the pan, she smiled at me with a particular hint of culinary conspiracy in her eyes.  She knew mom tried her hardest to raise us in a low-fat food household, the influence of being health conscious in 80s (a dietary legacy against which I have spent my life rebelling…)

The beshamel came out beautifully. We prepared the table and opened the Victorian balcony doors, letting in the sounds of the Sea and streets below. She took her seat at the table as matriarch with her growing tribe gathered around her.  Her daughters, grandchildren, and her first great-granddaughter.

My mom and I left Egypt a couple days later.  Ashraf, Diane & fam continued on to Italy.

When we landed at JFK we received news that Mama Wagida had passed just hours before while we were still in the air. Allah yarhamha (God Bless)…

“…there is always more to learn from the resolve of the human spirit and the power of culinary traditions among its most creative, nourishing mediums.”

As I prepare to go back to Egypt for the first time since 2007, since that last dinner with Mama Wagida and her macarona beshamel, I wonder what it is exactly that I’m seeking. Even with the personal and professional risks – and protestations from loved ones and colleagues.

And perhaps it’s the certainty that there is always more to learn. From my own ancestral traditions. From the resolve of the human spirit.  And the power of culinary traditions among its most creative, nourishing mediums.

More soon…

From Pekoe to Cairo… and the Seas in Between

This summer, I’m taking some time away from the hustle in DC to go back and learn in the Mediterranean, a land that continues to teach the world about ancestral traditions of healthy eating and lifestyle.

I’m excited to reconnect with my family in Alexandria and Cairo.

To connect with friends and colleagues in Cairo, Beirut, and more doing great work in integrative health & lifestyle services. To learn from their experiences.

To be immersed and share in the region’s homegrown yoga & mindfulness culture.

To learn from foodies and farmers preserving and reinventing Mediterranean food and land traditions.

To experience the holistic healing practices utilized in trauma relief services & peacebuilding initiatives in a region that continues to struggle with conflict and insecurity for generations now.

I am honored to be invited into these various healing communities to teach what I have learned in my work over the last five years with individual clients and corporate wellness programs. And from the tribe of healers and misfits at Pekoe Acupuncture & Wellness where my practice was born.  In their devotion to natural healing methods that serve the long-term health of patients and clients, I have learned tremendously about the art and science of empowering individuals in physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Thus far, I will teach healthy eating and Thai massage at healing centers & studios in Cairo including the Ashtanga Yoga Cairo and the Nun Center.  In Lebanon I will partner with Souk El-Tayyeb, a producer-run market that reclaims and reinvents food and land traditions in improving environmental sustainability and empowering at-risk communities.

I know better than to presume I know the needs of these communities before I arrive. Their unique environmental and cultural challenges.

My honest plan is to show up and serve.  To accept the invitations of these communities to come in as a guest speaker and educator, but to hold space and learn about the needs and challenges of each community – and how my teachings fit in.  How to offer my knowledge and experiences in a way that is relevant and offers value.

This trip will offer a healing exchange of sorts. To learn about service and the work of the integrative health community in the Middle East and offer what I have learned as a healer and educator in my time at Pekoe.

As I expand the scope of my work now outside of Pekoe, I am excited to share what I learn – lessons and recipes, healing traditions and stories – with my community and clients in DC and those I have yet to meet in the journey beyond.

More soon :-)

Breathing Life into a Practice

I finally did it. I took my very first yoga class this year on my own as a student.  It was my second yoga class this calendar year.  First one was a hot power yoga class at Down Dog Yoga that my ex-boyfriend dragged me to catching up one night. It was challenging and exhilarating. I nearly passed out.

But last night I checked out the new yoga studio in my hood – Shaw Yoga. Always socializing, I stopped in to welcome them to the neighborhood.  The space – gorgeous, well lit  and serene- called me to hang out for bit.

It was my day off… and on impulse it occurred to me: Why not just take a class again?

It had been a while.  Occupational hazard – I teach 7 yoga classes a week and I have no asana (yoga posture) practice to speak of really.  I have a solid daily meditation practice that keeps me grounded and inspired and sane. I demonstrate postures in my classes.  I bike from gig to gig. I do Thai bodywork.  My active lifestyle is enough to keep me in shape and present in my body, but not truly challenged.

Next class in 15 minutes with Gina was Ashtanga inspired.  I panicked. Ashtanga has always intimidated me because well, precision has never been my thing. That’s why I’ve always gravitated to prana-flow practices. Perhaps this aversion to precision also explains my impatience with recipes- following & creating them.  Elizabeth, one of the studio’s founders assured me that it would be taught at a mixed level, and there’s nothing to fear.

I needed to relieve some stress and release into someone else’s guidance as a student, without the responsibility for anyone else’s practice.

I’m about to take a big trip to the Mediterranean – a 50 day sabbatical to teach, serve and learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle in Egypt, Lebanon, Israel & Palestine, and Spain.  Though I successfully transitioned out of the international development & conflict resolution field, I miss international work.  This trip – with workshops lined up thus far in Cairo, Beirut, and Ramallah – is an opportunity to expand the scope of my practice internationally.

And while I’m truly excited for exploration, attending to all of the logistical and financial arrangements has been stressful to say the least.

But I wasn’t prepared for the the emotional hurdles.  The practice of balancing compassion and respect towards my family – who express love and affection through protection and concern – and still stand up for myself.

I’m the youngest and only girl in a Middle Eastern family and even though I’m pushing 32, I always have to negotiate for confidence in my decisions and indeed the merits of my lifestyle and career choices.

Especially when my failed marriage to an abusive alcoholic asshole – and my family’s heroic & comprehensive intervention to get me out of it – can always be cited as proof that my instincts and decisions can’t be trusted.  Them bones.  What’s family for I suppose if not to dig them up at convenience.

So by the time walked into Shaw Yoga, I knew I was supposed to take a break and stay put for a moment. To just show up and just be a student without responsibility for anyone else. To release into someone else’s voice and guidance and literally breathe life into my practice.

And it was perfect.  Gina was perfect. Relaxed, encouraging and yes, precise – without any intimidation factor.  And Otis Redding and Bill Withers on the playlist was pretty perfect too. Gave me the permission to release into a soulful heart opening joy.

This is another first too… First non-recipe post on this blog this calendar year too. And I’m hoping the revival of a robust blogging presence to stay in touch with my clients and community while on the road.

Thank you Gina & Shaw Yoga for creating the space and inspiration.

 

 

Amani’s Old-Timey Immunity Boosting Fire Cider

This tip comes straight from the incredibly knowledgeable and green-savvy herbalist and pharmacist Amani El Sawah of Go Green, Get Healthy and Village Green Apothacary. When I asked Amani for some herbal wisdom to detox and keep the body strong through winter, without missing a beat she suggested this fiery brew of nature’s best immunity boosters. Get out your jars and a enthusiasm for home-based remedies for this month’s self care tip :

FIRE CIDER

Old-Timey Immunity Boosting Fire Cider

A traditional herb-infused vinegar containing warming and
antimicrobial herbs and spices to aid in circulation and support the
immune system. Try it in salads, soups, dips or straight up for a tasty
way to enhance your health, especially during cold and flu season.
There is no wrong way to make fire cider, but for those of us who
need recipes, here is one method:

Ingredients:
1 Quart apple cider vinegar
½ cup horseradish, grated
1/8 cup chopped garlic
½ cup chopped onion,
½ cup grated ginger
1 tsp cayenne (can also use fresh hot peppers, chopped)

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a quart jar and cover with apple cider vinegar.
Cover tightly and keep in a cool, dark place for 4-8 weeks. Strain into
a clean jar. You can also heat up the vinegar for a quicker steeping
method