Practicing Yoga Again

I used to be able to do this.

And this.

And a ton of other poses—tricky arm balances and advanced variations—as if they were nothing.

And then I moved.

I knew before I even started packing boxes that leaving Des Moines was going to change my yoga practice. I'd looked and looked at what options were available in L-Town, in Bloomington, in Springfield, anywhere within an hour's drive. And right after I moved, I explored some of these options. I even made repeat visits to a few.

But none of them compared to the yoga practice I got at H(om) in Des Moines (sadly, since closed). Nothing compared to practicing with a teacher who pushed me further than I'd ever been pushed before (and who was probably even more enthusiastic about the strides I made than I was), next to yogis who were some of my best friends and inspirations on and off the mat. Walking the couple of blocks to practice a couple of times a week became one of the highlights of my time in Des Moines—I'd never felt more limber, healthier, happier. My back hadn't felt so good in years.

After the move, I tried to continue practicing on my own. And at the places I ventured to in Springfield and Bloomington. It worked for a while—enough that, when I visited my yogi sister in D.C. and made it to a few classes, I still felt good in my skin. I could keep up. I had it yet.

But then there was winter weather. And basketball games to go to instead. And an unhappy Space Turtle. And so going to yoga fell by the wayside. And somehow I managed to go months—months!—without practicing.

I made it back to my mat (in the middle of our not-so-big kitchen, mind you) a few times recently, and I'm amazed at how much my body has changed in the relatively short time it's been since I practiced regularly. Everything I worked so hard to build up—the strength to stay up in complicated arm balances, the stamina to hold deep poses just one more breath longer than I thought I could've—is all gone. Tonight when I practiced, I felt like I was inhabiting someone else's body. My limbs were stiff even in poses I'd done a hundred times. Bending forward was much more laborious than I remembered. So was backward. And even more so sideways. My ribs felt compacted, as if they were stacked one on top of the other with nothing in between. My spine was crunched together, and I could feel it from the base of my skull all the way to my sacrum. Where I would normally move smoothly from one pose to the next, would flow effortlessly, would immediately go into binds, I found myself wobbling, sticking with the basics, pulling out of poses early. Who is this person? I wondered. When is she going to bring my body back?

At the same time though, I noticed something happening. An awareness of my body returning, even if it was just to point out the cracks and creaks and knots. An awareness of the poses and how my body felt in them. An awareness that wow, just holding Warrior 2, just standing in Mountain Pose, can be intense.

I regret that my yoga practice fell to the wayside in the first place, and I regret that it took this long for me to come back to it. But at the same time, this is good for me. Now, I can spend a couple of times a week in my kitchen, building up the strength I used to have. I can go to yoga classes that, when I first moved, seemed so boring and uninspiring I didn't even want to return. So what if there aren't many arm balances or inversions? I don't need them yet. Not until I figure out what form this new yogi in me might take.

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Basil, and Feta

How about another recipe? This is one of my favorite springtime meals.

Of course, when Conservative Boy is around it's not called a meal. It's a side. Because in order to be a meal there has to be meat involved. But when I make this on a night when he's golfing until later? It's a meal. Now, without further rambling ...

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Basil, and Feta
(adapted from Delicious Living)

1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small orange bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

6 thin stalks asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pint red grape tomatoes, halved

1 large shallot, minced
2 gloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup orzo

1 1/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp sliced fresh basil (preferably from your pots on the front step)
1 tbsp grated lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss bell peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, shallot, and garlic with one tablespoon olive oil in a large baking dish. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 25 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula.

2. While the veggies roast, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add orzo and stir until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add vegeta
ble broth and season with salt and pepper. Lower heat, cover, and cook for 12 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.

If you haven't already, this is a good time to toast those pine nuts. Just don't get distracted like I did, or they get a little too roasted.

3. Add roasted vegetables to orzo. Add lemon juice and toss lightly. Let cool to room temperature and add feta, pine nuts, and basil. Top with grated lemon zest.

NOTE: This dish tastes best when it's eaten outside in your backyard with a glass of chilled wine. Really. I wouldn't make something like that up.


Letting Butter Talk (Part 3)

Remember me? My name is Butter. Julie asked me to talk to you today because she's been too busy to write on here lately. As if she had to remind me she's been too busy. I already knew that.

My friend Conservative Boy was gone all weekend so it was a Julie-Butter weekend. I thought it would be really fun, because she's usually a big softy. But she spent most of the weekend sitting there proofreading. Proofreading! Do you know how boring that is? It's really boring. Trust me.

It's a good thing I was there to keep an eye on things while she was working so much; otherwise, the whole house might've fallen down. Seriously. I really had to keep things in line. It was hard work. That's why I'm laying here right now. I'm not being lazy. That's just the best position from which to guard the door ... er ... dining room table.

Now, I can't complain too much, mind you. Julie did let me have a slumber party with my buddy Walker one night. That was pretty fun. And she took me for lots of walks and even a run too. But you know what, that running is hard work. So, of course, as soon as I let my guard down and tried to catch my breath ...

She went back to work. Lame. Isn't she supposed to be trying fun things? With me? Maybe someone should leave some comments here about what things she should try. If you're not sure, I could help you out. New bones, maybe. More time outside. Leaving more food on the plates that go into the dishwasher so I have more tasty nibbles to lick off. Those all sound like great things to try soon, right?


Weekend Proofreading

Thankfully it's a long weekend since, in my madness, I managed to agree to proofread not one but two books. Plus a handful of articles.

What was I thinking?

Needless to say, you might not see much of me. Or, if you do, expect to see more planting and puppy posts, as those are the other two "p" words that will rule my life for the next couple of days.

After that though, stay tuned. You're going to see some bull-riding pictures (really!), a few more green moves (since after week one I totally slacked off), and the scoop on why you should love Michael Pollan even half as much as I do.


Dispatches from Montana (Part II)

Now, day two in good ol' Lewistown, Montana was a busy one. But it finished in Montana style—with a trip down Main Street to check out a few of the highlights. Among them: Montana Tavern.

There isn't anything particularly exciting about Montana Tavern—it's just your average Montana bar. Wood paneling, fish on the walls, classic artwork of the Old West.

Or is it just your average Montana bar? If so, then what the heck is this crowd looking at?

Something you won't find anywhere else in Central Montana–it's a box that allows you to gaze down at what's below the bar: Spring Creek. Yep, that's right. You can see fish swimming around in the creek while your drink your Coors Original (that is what you're drinking here, right?).

Another little-known fact? Lewistown produces some pretty fabulous drinking water, bottled straight from the spring. In case you were wondering.

I made sure to fill up my water bottle with that delicious water before I left town. And then, once it was time to leave, I sat back and said goodbye to Lewistown.

Dispatches from Montana

I spent the weekend in Montana, one of my (many) favorite places in the world. So, while I was there, I thought I'd take a few snapshots. Without further ado:

Driving across the range from Billings (where I flew into) to Lewistown (my mom's hometown)

A stop for coffee in Roundup. How can you not stop at a coffee hut that looks like this?

Once you arrive in Lewistown, you'll probably want to eat. (I know I always do.) That's why you stop here:

The Dash Inn. As you can see by the line, everyone stops here for lunch on Friday. Seriously, everyone. (Side note: The Dash Inn has been a hangout since my mom was in school. It's that cool.)

While you're at the Dash Inn, you'd be remiss not to try a wagon wheel. If you don't, you won't see another one for a whopping 26,000 miles. No joke.

If you order a wagon wheel, here's what you get. It's basically a burger stuck in a pocket o' grilled bread. Descriptive today, aren't I? This was my mom's wagon wheel. I opted for fried chicken, cole slaw, fries, and a mini sundae for $3.95 (or maybe $4.95–regardless, it was cheap).

At this point, I was full and happy. So I forgot to take pictures for the rest of the day. So you'll have to wait until later to see day two of my dispatches from Montana.


Tilapia with Mango Salsa

On the menu last night: tilapia with mango salsa. It was Conservative Boy's request—he's always joking about wanting roast duck with mango salsa ... or tilapia with mango salsa ... or basically anything with mango salsa. So when he requested it the other night I said OK. Let's make it.

The result? It earned a "delicious" rating from Conservative Boy, and that's saying something. He's not exactly effusive with the praise. So will I make this one again? In a second. (Not just because he liked it—I thought it was delish too.)

Here's how to make it, adapted from this Mango-licious Tilapia recipe.

Tilapia filets
2 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp grated orange zest

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

salt and pepper

crushed red pepper flakes

For salsa:

1 mango - peeled, seeded, diced

1 small red onion - finely chopped

1 avocado - peeled, pitted, diced

2 roma tomatoes - peeled, seeded, chopped

1 lime - zested, juiced

1 jalapeno pepper - seeded, finely chopped

1 tbsp minced fresh ginger root

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

1 tsp kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a shallow baking dish, combine olive oil, orange zest, orange juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes. Rinse the filets, pat them dry, and place them in the baking dish. Turn to coat them with seasonings.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until fish can be flaked with a fork.

4. Combine the mango, onion, avocado, tomatoes, lime zest and juice,
jalapeno, ginger, cilantro and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a glass bowl.

Stir to blend.

Once fillets are finished, spoon the salsa over them to serve.

And enjoy. (Trust me, you will.)



Oh pupusas. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways ...

OK. I'm not really going to be that dramatic. But I will say this: If you're moseying around the Des Moines Farmer's Market or spot an El Salvadoran restaurant anytime soon, you better stop for a pupusa.

This is what they look like at the farmer's market:

(Photo: macmacmac)

According to my quick research, pupusas were created by the Pipil tribes from what is now El Salvador. Basically, a pupusa is a thick, handmade corn tortilla stuffed with ingredients such as cheese, pork, squash, or refried beans. My favorite—called the mixed pupusa at the farmer's market—combines cheese and meat. Just make sure you get pickled cabbage relish and hot sauce on top.


The Des Moines Farmers Market

I spent less than 24 hours in Des Moines this weekend for a bridal shower but still managed to make it to the first farmer's market of the year. (Exciting, since it's one of the things I'll miss most about Des Moines this summer.)

It was a dreary, drizzly day but there was still quite a crowd. The Des Moines Farmer's Market is quite an event, even when the weather isn't too great.

It's a bit early in the season for much produce, but there were quite a few stands selling asparagus, a few green onions, even a bit of rhubarb. Of course, there were also a few vendors selling every type of produce from peaches to giant red and green peppers—but if people buying all that produce think it was Iowa-grown this time of year, they're crazy.

There were plenty of vendors selling ethnic food and baked goods. More handmade items too—yard decorations, jewelry, art, you name it. Of course there were plenty of great Iowa wineries there offering samples. Cheese, coffee, gourmet dog treats. It's all there.

Even though you couldn't get much fresh produce yet, there were more vendors selling plants and flowers than I remember from past years. Big blooms, herbs, veggies just waiting to be planted—you name it. I decided it probably wasn't in my best interest to haul a bunch of plants four and a half hours back home though, so I passed on buying any.

What I did buy, however, was a snack. It was a tough choice—you can get fabulous breakfast burritos and breakfast pizza. But this week I opted for one of my absolute favorites—a papusa.

You know what? I was going to write about papusas right here. But I've decided they deserve an ode all their own. So stay tuned ...


Planting Herbs (and more)

Because of my lack of time this week, you're getting yet another plant post.

We don't have a good place to put in a garden (not enough sun in the backyard), so this year I'm growing a few herbs and veggies in containers in the front instead.

I started things out last night by potting some herbs. The big one in the middle—basil—came from the farmer's market. The other two (both parsley—I meant to buy an oregano but flaked out) were from the greenhouse.

I also bought this Big Boy tomato plant at the farmer's market.

It's going to make for some delicious BLTs later this summer.

What else should I plant in containers? Any ideas? I'm up for suggestions!


Planting Flowers

Sunny Sundays are made for planting flowers. So that's exactly what I did. I'm on a mission to see if there's any green in these thumbs of mine and decided a beautiful May day presented the perfect time to start. So here's what I did (with Butter supervising from our big front window, of course).

First I filled the big planter that runs along the front of our house with miscellaneous flowers and plants that drew my eye at the greenhouse (right).

As I just alluded to, I'm a gardening rookie. So I have no idea whether I planted the right plants or whether they're in the right soil or whether I can keep them alive (cross your fingers!). This spring, I'm just giving things a try. Then, if I have any knack for this at all, I'll actually try to plan out what I'm going to plant, maybe get to the point where I fill containers with hardy perennials and native plants as opposed to random flowers that I fancy.

But until then, bear with me and don't laugh at my amateur gardener's faux pas. Please and thank you.

In addition to digging into the soil in the planter, I also created this nifty little container. The dahlias were so darn pretty, I couldn't help buying them. Guess I'm a sucker for color:

(There's a great fern in there but somehow it doesn't really show up in this picture. So just take my word for it—it's there.)

I'm trying not to spend a fortune (gardening can be expensive!), so I took advantage of some pots left in the garage from the previous owner. Now that I look at the picture, they aren't exactly lovely. So don't look at them. Just focus on the pretty pink petunias:

Wait a second. You're looking at the pots, aren't you? I thought I told you not to! (Maybe I'll paint them soon. Then again, maybe not. That's character, people.)

I also had to plant this lovely lavender I bought from the farmer's market on Saturday. I'm a sucker for anything lavender and couldn't resist (plus, I had to replace the plant I had from the Des Moines farmer's market that didn't survive the move).

This guy will have some buddies after Wednesday's farmer's market, when I'm going to buy a tomato plant and some herbs to grow in containers out front. (If only I had a big, sunny backyard for growing all sorts of vegetables ... she says wistfully.)


Letting Butter Talk (Part II)

Guys? Guys? Why won't you let me in? Didn't you get the memo that I need to be right beside you at all times? And what the heck is going on here? I can stick my head through the screen door and I'm just sure I couldn't do that before. Is this some kind of a joke?

Seriously, guys. I haven't been petted in at least three minutes. Please let me in.


Green Move of the Week: Laundry Detergent

It's exciting to hear from readers who are starting to make small "green" changes in their lives—some as a result of what I've posted here, others as a result of their growing awareness of why it makes sense to adopt a greener lifestyle for our health, pocketbooks, and the environment. (I'm particularly excited to hear that Conservative Grandmom is on the green bandwagon in Florida!)

As such, I've decided to begin posting a Green Move of the Week. The first reason is, of course, that this reminds me to keep making changes in my own life. The other reason is that this (hopefully) gives you a small dose of motivation to make a change—I'll keep them easy, promise!—each week along with me.

The first change this week is greening your laundry detergent.

How easy is it? Just buy a different kind of detergent when your current bottle runs out.

Why should you do it? Many detergents are loaded with fragrances, which can cause skin irritation and irritate allergies in some people. Plus chemicals called phthalates that are common in fragrance formulas have been shown to harm hormonal systems and reproductive organs (no thanks). Although most manufacturers now offer fragrance-free options (and have eliminated the phosphates, which damaged waterways by causing algae blooms), there are still reasons to opt for green detergents. For one, you can be confident that you're wearing clothing washed in fewer chemicals. And you're purchasing a product that isn't petroleum-based (we're supposed to be reducing on reliance on petroleum, people). Plus, typically green detergents come in recycled packaging that can also be recycled once you're finished with it.

My story. When I did laundry in the dingy basement of my first post-college apartment building, I switched to Seventh Generation Free & Clear laundry detergent. But once I started doing Conservative Boy's laundry too in exchange for the use of the machines in the house he lived in, the "green" laundry detergent fell by the wayside because C.B. (of course) requested that I use the same laundry detergent his mom did so his clothes smelled the same. (You all better be rolling your eyes here—I know I am at the thought that I actually gave in to that request!)

When we moved here, I wanted to switch back to Seventh Generation, but as luck would have it I couldn't find it in L-Town. So I settled for this:

It's Tide Coldwater, which is marketed as a way to save energy and money because it's formulated for use with cold-water washing (which you're doing now, right?). Mostly I bought it because it's concentrated and comes in a smaller bottle than most Tide products, and I figured I might as well buy detergent formulated for my cold-water washing, even though I'm pretty sure you can use any detergent you want when you wash clothes in cold water and it will work just fine. (Yep, I'm still a sucker for a bit of greenwashing every now and then.)

Anyhow. Miracle of all miracles, one of the grocery stores in town is remodeling—and in the process it has added a shelf of Seventh Generation products. So I decided it was time to go back. Previously, I was using the detergent free of all dyes and fragrances. But because C.B. likes his laundry-fresh scent, I decided to give this a try:

It's Seventh Generation's "blue eucalyptus and lavender" detergent. (I'm a sucker for anything lavender.)

This product is ultra concentrated (the cap you pour the detergent into is at least half the size of those used on traditional bottles). According to Seventh Generation, if every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of petroleum-based liquid laundry detergent with the bottle I have here, we could save 233,000 barrels of oil. (That's enough to heat and cool 13,400 U.S. homes for a year.) Beyond the fact this detergent is plant-based rather than petroleum-based, it's also nontoxic, biodegradable, free of dyes and phosphates, and not tested on animals. And you can even use your clothes washer water on your plants if you use this detergent and have a graywater system (more about these someday soon). Oh, and those fragrances come from plant essences, rather than artificial fragrances concocted in a lab.

Go a step further. Buying powder laundry detergent is better still—liquid detergents are made mostly of water and require more energy to produce and package than powder detergents. I, however, haven't switched to powder yet. I tried it once and had a few bad experiences with powder-covered clothes after the fact, so I haven't been brave enough to go back yet. If you use it now or are making the switch to it, let me know (and remind me why I should switch too).

Not sure which green detergents to try? Check out Grist's reviews of some of the most popular options. And stay tuned next week for another green move of the week!


Clorox Green Works Cleaner (Part II)

So, funny thing happened the day after I posted about trying Clorox Green Works bathroom cleaner. I got an email from the Sierra Club (as did all other members, I'm sure) about the Sierra Club endorsement. Why didn't it come yesterday so I could include it in my post?!

Anyhow, here's the lowdown. Looks like my guesses about the benefits—accessible, affordable, as good as conventional products—were right. Still no word about any ... ahem ... donations to Sierra Club on Clorox's part though.

The letter points out that "Providing people with resources, tools and solutions that will help them live clean, green lives is core to the Sierra Club's mission, and when we have a chance to promote a solution that will reach and help millions, we must seize it."

Hopefully they're right.