Category Archives: Travel
A couple of years ago I gave up eating rice, noodles, bread, and such carbs on a regular basis. I eat these occasionally to satisfy my taste for them. I love slurping noodles, I love the chewiness of rice, and I also love multi-grain fruit and nut breads, and yes I love a good fruit tart or pie. I don’t have to have them every day, and that’s key to keeping a LOW-CARB diet, or better yet, lifestyle. Maintain a low-carb diet and you will lose weight and keep it off. Why? Because carbs act like sponges. They absorb everything then sit in the body for a longtime because digesting carbs is a slow process. Some FAT IS GOOD for you. Everything in moderation. Some of us can digest fat better than others. We’re all made differently, and we need to take that into account. You can follow any diet suggesting high-fat and low-carbs, but in general you have to listen to your body, noticing what it’s telling you. Following a diet is not good enough. You won’t learn. You actually need to do the work and notice how different you feel when you make a change to the way you eat. You have to understand the difference and then keep tweaking until the diet is exactly what you need. For instance, I know that I cannot digest fat very well. I’m choosy about the types of fat I put in my body, and most of them are plant-based from tofu, to nuts, avocados, seeds, and olive oil, for example. On rare occasions, I’ll have fish. If you like meat, have some, just be mindful of the amount you have at any one sitting. If you are going to have carbs, enjoy them in the early part of the day and in small quantities.
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Eat well and be well
Tomorrow I fly to Austin to teach at Lake Austin Spa Resort, one of the most notable spas in the country. Lucky me, I’ve been invited to return twice a year for several years in a row now, generally during their successful Culinary Week and other times to teach other aspects of living simply and mindfully. This time I am going back for their new Breathe Week where I’ll be teaching breathing through yoga, meditation, journaling and mindful cooking practices, and how to incorporate these disciplines into daily life. I’ll be taking advantage of the grounds for inspiration, and guided by the energy of the guests to share what I know about creating a fun, clean, and balanced lifestyle.
Some of my favorite things about this place is the garden, one of the most beautifully maintained I’ve seen in this kind of setting. That executive chef Stéphane Beaucamp takes advantage of it and incorporates freshly grown produce from the spa’s own grounds, is truly one of the most wonderful aspects of staying at Lake Austin and experiencing a few days there. His 5-course menu changes all the time, and because the portions are sensible, you can taste everything and not worry about a thing. I too like to pick Thai basil, fresh peas, sweet bell peppers, and squash blossoms when cooking with the guests. The garden is completely open to all. Indeed, a friend came along one time, then sent me pictures of her very own herb garden inspired by our conversations and a leisurely walk through the spa’s garden. That’s the kind of reaction I like to see from those who visit.
There are so many activities that you’ll never get bored. I took my first lesson in sculling a few years ago and have been enjoying this elegant water sport ever since. To be on the water first thing in the morning, and gliding the peaceful lake as the fog lifts, is incredibly meditative. There’s also kayaking and paddle boarding, for those who love taking in the fresh air. Two outdoor pools, a hot tub for those chilly evenings, and indoor pools are also available. The day is filled with activities from yoga, to zumba, weight lifting and any indoor physical activity. These are just a few things you can expect, but do consult the staff for other activities on any given day. Special guest instructors from celebrity chefs to notable authors on any number of subjects are invited to mingle with guests any week of the year.
And of course there’s always the spa treatments. I happen to love my 80-minute Custom Comfort massage, booking a couple per stay, but the spa menu is extensive and worth looking into, asking the knowledgeable staff about before booking the treatment that is right for you.
Lake Austin Spa Resort is one of the places that is a home away from home. The staff is always friendly, welcoming, and accommodating, and every year they develop and offer numerous informative, valuable programs so you walk away learning every time you come. That—and the beautiful, recently renovated guest rooms—is what makes them a #1-rated spa worth exploring.
Come join me for Breathe Week, May 19 & 20. I will be teaching the following:
May 19: Metta Meditation at 8 AM; Mindful Cooking at 2PM
May 20: Ashtanga Yoga at 8 AM; Food Meditation & Journaling at 1 PM
Eat well and be well,
P.S.: here’s a little taste of what it’s like to enjoy Lake Austin Spa Resort…
Sometimes you need a change of scenery to maintain your balance and peace of mind. At least, I do. This summer I decided to spend a week in the Gaspésie peninsula in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I’ve traveled a lot and mostly in Asia and Europe. I’ve visited Canada a few times, both West and Eastern regions, but it was my first time that far up east in Quebec. To be surrounded by nature and off the grid for part of it is a luxury few are willing to experience, but I took the time to recharge, minus laptop, and with minimal, if at all, cellphone service. To sum it up in 3 words… I loved it.
It takes two days to get to Gaspésie, because there are only two daily flights from Montreal to Quebec City, and finally to your destination. Total flight time? less than 4 hours. From New York you can also easily drive to Montreal, which is about 7 hours, another 2-1/2 hours to Quebec City, and another 3 hours to Gaspésie. It’s doable and I might just take the scenic drive next time, making several stops along the way because Quebec is that wonderful mix of city life and rugged terrain with everything in between. Wandering around and taking in the natural beauty of this place would have been more than satisfying for this low-key traveler who prefers backpacking and going off course over anything else. That said, I did hit a few touristy spots for fun.
Deciding to take it easy and go with the flow, meeting people and engaging in fun conversations, my newfound friends and I get on a boat to tour the famous Rocher Percé, a large outcropping with a naturally formed hole—or piercing, hence the name “percé.” Surrounded by seals, penguins and gulls, this massive limestone rock formed millions of years ago is somewhat fragile, its huge hole a direct result of erosion. It sheds about 300 tons a year, but while it may disappear one day, it’s estimated that we have another 20,000 years to enjoy it before that happens. In other words, we’ll be gone long before it is!
Barely noticeable on the map is Bonaventure Island, which at one point may have been attached to Rocher Percé. There are many nature trails to choose from, the shortest one taking a good hour and half roundtrip to hike. And, once you get to the top, you discover one of the largest Northern Gannet colonies with about 48,000 pairs in existence. Lots of birds, though the numbers are less than half from a few years ago. Needless to say, egg poaching is frowned upon in this bird watcher’s paradise!
You come to this part of the world and naturally whale watching is not far from your thoughts… well at least not from mine. It’s been on my bucket list ever since I was a kid. We get to the dock, and captain says, “ok let’s gear up because it gets wet and rough out there.” Dressed in these huge yellow rain coats (I could have fit two more people inside mine), we sat by the water’s edge ready to get on the boat again and go out to sea. Captain comes back to deliver the news that “because of the dangerous high waves (and he threw some technical terms at us, I now forget), our excursion is canceled.” Bucket list item, “
whale watching,” crossed off upon arrival in Gaspésie, is now back on the list… “whale watching.”
Though I admit that whale watching is something I’ve always wanted to experience and one of the major reasons I came on this trip, not all was lost because the next stop allowed for a moment of stillness, which is something I seek no matter where I am. The Forillon National Park affords just that. Seated on a bed of rocks, my eyes closed, the waves rolling softly, I gave myself thirty minutes to chill.
Established in 1970, Forillon is the first of 42 national parks in Gaspésie. Pristine with lush green rolling hills and massive rock formations surrounding a beach, you can walk around trails or simply sit by the water as I did, peacefully.
My next stop, the Chic-Chocs, part of the Notre Dame Mountains, a continuation of the Appalachian trail. It is massive! I hiked for hours but never felt it because the trails are just jaw-dropping beautiful. The highest summit is Mont Jacques Cartier at 4,160 ft high. Whether you go in the summer, where you can also hike down to Helen’s waterfall—I attempted to dip in the 48°F water for about 2 seconds—or in the winter to experience some of the best, most challenging powdered ski trails in the East Coast, you will want to return because there is no way you can experience every trail in one trip.
It’s hard to do it all in a week. Gaspésie has too much to offer and it’s the kind of place you need to take the time and explore. It is simply one of the most spectacular natural wonderland to experience. What I’ve given you is just a small taste.
WHERE TO EAT & STAY… AND OTHER INTERESTING STUFF!
After a first day of sightseeing, me and my friends were hungry. A vegetarian at heart, when I travel all bets are off because the only way to get to know a culture and quickly make friends with the locals is by sharing and enjoying a meal with them. In this case it was easy to let go of my dietary preferences because the Saint Lawrence boasts some of the finest seafood on the planet including the Gaspé lobster, aka Canadian Atlantic Lobster. Steamed is the best way to taste the naturally sweet flesh of this crustacean, direct from the pollution-free, rocky bottom of Gaspé’s coastal waters. That and a good local beer on draft is what I ordered for dinner at La Maison du Pêcheur, a local favorite since the early 1970′s. It’s a full menu offering something for everyone, though vegetarians will have a choice of salad… or salad. This place is huge with a beautiful view of the Rocher Percé, but if not here, there are plenty of restaurants from town to town that will serve this wonderful seafood Gaspésie is known for.
The beautiful L’Auberge Des Trois Soeurs, overlooking the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Contemporary, clean and affordable, our stay included breakfast at their nearby restaurant, La Maison Mathilde, where I enjoyed the local smoked salmon on multigrain and cup of fresh fruit. I wanted something substantial before my whale watching expedition!
The restaurant at the Auberge William Wakeham in the town of Gaspé is a fine-dining, multi-course exploration of local and artisanal ingredients from the region including Gaspé, Percé and Mont Joli. Created and executed by owner and chef, Desmond Ogden, the menu is eclectic, served with French elegance, and touching upon world flavors with subtlety. I highly recommend having dinner here and at the very least having the lobster bisque and pan-seared scallops. My friends were delighted with their braised lamb shank and duck magré as well. On another note, an overnight stay is at your own risk. I don’t mind staying in inns and bed & breakfasts, in fact I often prefer them. In this case, while it may be tempting given that the Auberge is a historic building, the rooms need some serious upgrading. I say, go for the food!
Exploramer, the maritime museum, was actually very interesting. Our group got to enjoy putting on waders to get wet and explore marine life. Fun for adults and children alike! The museum has other children’s activities and an exhibit featuring local sea life, which you can pet and otherwise handle including sea cucumbers, urchins, and seahorses. They also have a small café which also offers some delicious simple fare for lunch. The savory ever so slightly spicy seaweed soup was unexpected and absolutely delicious.
Auberge de Montagne des Chic-Chocs, was the highlight of the trip. This is base-camp if you plan to hike, mountain bike or ski the mountain range. The guides are extremely well-trained in any condition and are all experts skiers. There was not a moment where I did not feel safe. They also make sure you have a way to rehydrate and communicate. In fact your stay comes with a survival box! Everyone on the trail gets a walkie-talkie, so you might want to brush up on the lingo—”10-4!,” “Roger!,” etc… (the quicker the message, the better. For those who can’t communicate unless they TXT, make the effort and hit the “talk” button because you won’t have time to thumb “Falling, catch me pls, K? :-|”) While the trails are safe for the most part, depending on your physical abilities, it’s important that you put all ego aside and listen to your guide. He has your best interest at heart, and should anything happen to a group member, the guide relies on everyone else. In other words, you must proceed as a team!
The rooms at the Auberge are beautifully appointed with natural wood and stone finishes. All come with a gorgeous view of the mountains. In fact no matter where you sit you will experience an amazing view, even from the hot tub, which I did enjoy after hiking for 6 hours! Your stay there includes breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner, and you will enjoy all of these because the closest restaurant is about 2-1/2 hours away otherwise, not to mention that you will no doubt burn those calories. Chef Alain Laflamme is absolutely wonderful and makes some delicious homestyle supper fare. The courses are served family-style at communal tables, encouraging conversations among guests. If you have dietary preferences, you must let them know ahead of time, otherwise you eat as everyone does and that may include roast elk (vegetarians beware!). There is only one menu at supper time. Breakfast offers plenty of choices, from fruit to cereals, yogurts, eggs, juices, cheeses, and breads, and some local specialties as well. Snacks of nuts and dried fruit, and homemade energy bars, are available, as are boxed lunches, if you plan on hiking all day. They aim to please, and all you have to do is ask.
On the last day we visited the Jardins de Métis, a botanical garden that boasts colorful varying textures, from manicured to more natural settings, and art installations due to a yearly competition that invites artists from around the world to participate. The Estevan Lodge Restaurant was another highlight, with floral arrangements (direct from the gardens), not on the table but in your spoon! Delicate and sweet bites throughout the meal with a menu that changes seasonally, as it should be. You will not be disappointed. Spring and Summer, I would imagine are the best times of the year to experience this stunning place.
Bon voyage… t’sais!
Fall is here. It’s colder and dryer, our bodies perhaps slightly more stiff than usual. To add to this, end-of-year holidays are just around the corner and traveling to visit family and friends is part of the routine for many. So how do you stay in shape when your body starts craving heavier foods and it becomes naturally less flexible than usual? Here are 10 tips on staying healthy while traveling.
1) Keep hydrated with water. The more you drink, the less stiff you will be. Drinking water also improves digestion and therefore helps the body get rid of toxins. The more liquid in your body, the less hungry you will be. Buy water at the airport and stay away from sugary or cream-laden beverages.
2) While you can’t get through security with bottled water, they won’t confiscate food. Pack your own travel snack. A trail mix of raw nuts and seeds mixed with dried fruit—sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, chopped apricots, for example—is always great to have on hand. A handful a day is a healthy serving. Fresh fruit such as banana or apples are also a good option. Stay away from crackers, cookies, and greasy potato or corn chips. On a flight there is little room to move around, so you won’t be burning those calories fast enough, and feeling heavy disturbs sleep or a chance at a good rest.
3) Some airport vendors will open as early at 5:00 AM, and I’ve seen people eat breakfast at that time when they probably never do. In other words, just because you’re at the airport waiting to board an early flight, doesn’t mean you should inhale breakfast first thing for fear that you’ll skip a meal. Skip the meal because you don’t need to eat an egg, bacon and cheese sandwich, especially that early in the morning!
4) Here are healthy food choices always available at the airport: fresh fruit, salads, vegetarian or grilled chicken wraps. Occasionally, sushi is available. For beverages bottled vegetable/fruit juices and water.
5) Avoid alcoholic or soft drinks during inflight service and keep caffeine (both coffee and tea) to a minimum. Be sure to rehydrate with water (see #1).
6) Plan ahead and order kosher and or vegetarian meals. These are the healthiest options on any long flight.
7) You have at least an hour if not two to kill at the airport before boarding your flight and getting into those uncomfortable seats, especially in Economy. Rather than browse the contents of a store or get on your computer, give yourself that time to stretch. A few yoga poses will go a long way.
8) Inflight exercise is possible. Walk to the back of the cabin to get the blood flowing in your legs and arms, and stretch. When seated, bring your knees up to your chest on one side then the other. Do this several times. If you can and are flexible, stretch your leg straight above your head, reaching your hands up to your feet. Do this holding the pose for 5 to 10 breaths on each side. 5 to 10 minutes of inflight exercise every hour will make a difference. On some aircrafts you can actually roll out your yoga mat. I’ve done this on the 2nd level of a 747 on more than one occasion, doing a full 30-minute yoga routine. Of course let the flight attendant know. The best time to do this is when passengers are sleeping on a long flight. Find out which aircraft you will be on and what the layout is ahead of time, so you understand what is or isn’t possible.
9) If you’re a Business or First Class traveler, even with more leg room you should still make an effort to get up and stretch too, or stay in your seat and stretch if that is preferred. The bigger seats definitely make it easier to get into more interesting yoga poses. I’ve done some fun stuff in Business class! And you too can walk to the back of the aircraft, all the way through Economy, to get the blood flowing in your limbs.
10) wear comfortable clothes so you can move and stretch easily. Unless you know you’re going straight to a business meeting as soon as you land, there is no need for you to get all dressed up to fly.
Safe, happy and healthy travels!
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I’m sitting on my deck overlooking the Long Island Sound, watching the waves roll softly onto the sand. There’s a breeze, but it seems to be pushing the intense summer heat around rather than cooling me! Still the clear blue sky, the sugar maple shading the picnic table, all of it inviting. So I sit sipping my usual pint of chilled, thirst quenching, pure, tart and sweet aloe vera, cranberry and apple juice cocktail… and contemplate.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks traveling and teaching. I’ve met people from different walks of life, meditating, practicing yoga, cooking, eating, conversing, and breathing with me, looking for answers to a healthier way of living for themselves and those close to them. I have felt resistance and openness, but mostly resistance for fear of failure to a lifestyle change that comes with time, and therefore patience, when everything around us is about convenience and instant gratification.
I teach breathing through meditation, yoga and cooking. This may sound weird, I realize, but it’s something that we, by enlarge, do unconsciously. Our breath, more often than not, is shallow and full of tension. Our bodies tight with aches and pains as a result, and our minds filled with thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow. Rarely, if ever, do we embrace the present moment where true happiness is said to exist. A friend recently noticed, “wow, you are wide open,” pointing at my sternum, my heart center. In conversation about nothing and everything with laughter and seriousness, he asked “what do you like?” I placed the palm of my hand on his sternum, his heart center. Openness is what I like and seek in people, their ability to embrace, appreciate and be present.
It’s taken me a long time to become open, rejecting fear along the path, and while there is still a fair amount of fear about this and that—I am human after all—it gets easier with time.
I have sought balance through yoga and conscious living, my focus calmness in the face of adversity, because there is not one day that goes by without my encountering some kind of obstacle whether physical, mental, or emotional. And so I count my breathing, chanting in my head “breathe… one! breathe… two!…” and so on, inhaling and exhaling deeply to quiet my mind, relaxing my body while diving deeply into consciousness, and cultivating peace, love and a sense of contentment when the world around me is full of temptation and therefore noise. Indeed, I have stood on my mat, about to drop backwards into backbend, only to sprout back up fidgeting to realign my body, my teacher looking at my feet and reminding me, “that’s just noise in your mind. Stop fidgeting, BREATHE and drop.” Trust in yourself and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
-written with gratitude to the folks at Lake Austin Spa Resort and their guests for giving me the platform to teach breathing through meditation, yoga and mindful cooking during The Yoga of Food™ event, which took place June 23-26, 2013. I look forward to returning to Lake Austin to teach from December 12-14, 2013.