Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Removing Obstacles: Autumn Vegetable Stew with Wheatberries

Two weeks ago, after my yoga class began with a chant to Ganesha, I was going to write a post about removing obstacles (Ganesha is known as Remover of Obstacles).  I abandoned it because it was taking me too long to write, and because I was feeling too beleaguered by obstacles myself, but after my teacher came back to the theme again this week in class, I felt like it was too perfect a fit not to talk about here.

After our beginning-of-class chant, my teacher, in her infinite wisdom, commented that the obstacles rarely go away (e.g., a diagnosis of IF is not likely to change any time soon); rather, it's a matter of changing perspective on the obstacle by returning to the present, by stripping away the complications that make dealing with it more difficult, and being able to see how to approach the problem more clearly.   Yoga teaches us to recognize and acknowledge difficulty when we encounter it, and then realize simplicity by coming back to what is immediate: our breath, our bodies, the way we feel right this very instant.  This sort of makes sense to me: when I'm in an asana, sometimes if I breathe, I find that I can go deeper into the pose or become more balanced on the exhale.  I haven't removed the obstacle; by staying present, I've managed to work through it.

This isn't to say that we can make difficult things "easy," by any means -- but rather, simplify them, make them less complicated, by looking at them in the present tense.  According to this line of thought, when we're looking too far ahead into the future, worrying about too many things, the simple things begin to look more complicated than they actually are, and what could be clear becomes muddled; we lose the ability to focus and problem-solve.

This exactly describes where I am, in this pregnancy, with my professional life, with everything.  I'm practically hyperopic ... I can't focus on things that are right in front of me, in the present tense, because I'm so worried about the immediate and not-so-immediate future: about how I will deal with a baby and still pay enough attention to my son (I imagine scenarios in which my husband spends lots of time away from me with my son [whose company I just love most of the time], thinking he's doing me a favor, and leaves me to feel completely alone with an infant), about how I will deal with coming back from maternity leave to a situation that will be very different from the one I left, about how we will manage financially and how I will manage psychologically and intellectually if my career will take a different turn.  I love going to yoga class because it helps me to leave all of this behind, or at least to put it where it belongs--in the future--and to concentrate on my breath, the way my body feels, the way that Bean is shifting and moving in my abdomen, the sound of the eternal Om playing during savasana.  Type-A personality aside, I can't do anything about some of these possible futures, because they haven't happened yet ... so trying to deal with them is not only a waste of psychic energy, but complicates what is happening right now.

Though I don't often cook wheatberries, I like this stew because of its satvic properties, and because it's so uncomplicated.  It's adaptable (like most Mark Bittman recipes) to the season, and to your tastes: substitute dried fruits, or summer vegetables like leeks and zucchini and tomatoes, or whatever you like.  There are no "obstacles" in the way of appreciating the tastes of the vegetables and grain: no heavy sauces, no overpowering spices.  While those things have their place, too (ayurvedic eating, like pretty much everything else in yoga, is about finding the balance that is right for you), this can be the base for any meal, and you'll leave the table feeling satisfied, but light enough to tackle the next challenge.

Autumn Vegetable Stew with Wheatberries

3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ lb. green beans, 1" slices (1 scant c. ... you could also use carrots)
1 acorn squash, peeled seeded and chopped
½ c. white wine or vegetable stock
2 c. cooked wheat berries
1 heaping c. kale
1 t. dried sage

Put the oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the squash (and carrots, if using those instead of green beans) and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the wine.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the squash is just starting to get tender, 20 minutes (if you're using green beans instead of carrots, add them after about 15 minutes and continue to cook the whole thing for 5 minutes more). Raise the heat a bit and stir in the wheat berries.

Cook, stirring frequently, until hot and bubbling, a minute or two. Stir in the kale, season again with salt and pepper, cover, and turn off the heat. After about 5 minutes, add the herb and fluff the stew gently with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve right away or at room temperature, drizzled with a little more olive oil if you like.
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  1. I wish I could find a yoga calss that I love here. Your post makes me homesick for the yoga instructor I had before I moved about 6 years ago. What excellent insight you have gained... Thanks for sharing and reminding me!

  2. I think that simplifying always improves situations. And it truly is a matter of perspective rather than moving the obstacles.

  3. And that is why yoga is the best possible preparation for labor. In fact, I'm working on a post about yoga for my doula blog right now.

    If you can remember to breathe and stay in the moment it won't matter if I make it up there for the bean's birth because you won't need me.

  4. A wonderful post. I will agree with our wonderful wise Adele. I also wish I had a wonderful yoga teacher like yours nearby. :)

  5. It's so hard to stay in the moment. I'm always worrying about things 10 steps ahead of where I am now. It doesn't help (at all), but if I don't worry a certain portion of my day I don't feel like the day is a sucess. :)

    I love that about yoga too...even if it's just for an hour.

  6. What an amazing post! What an amazing blog! I just found you through Melissa at "You Found What In There" and I'm so glad I did! Your blog is amazing. Do you take all those pictures of the yummy food you cook yourself?! I have to say, I don't really like cooking but you inspire me to give it more of a try. I hope everything goes well with the birth of your second child. I can't wait to keep following you!

    Esperanza @ esperanzasays.wordpress.com


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