Saturday, 28 January 2012

My Organic Pilgrimage in South India

Hello bloggie friends!  Are you still with me?  I wouldn't blame you if you've forgotten me in favour of those other blogs.  You know, the ones where they post frequently ;)

My blog-o-sphere absence is because of two things:
  1. My camera broke so I have no interesting photos to share. 
  2. I'm working on a super exciting project that has taken up most of my time here in India.  More on that in a few weeks ...
As I've mentioned before the place where I stay in India has a kitchen team, and they provide the food for the teachers, students and yoga vacation guests ... soooOooo that means I don't really have a lot of control over the food I eat.  At home its mostly raw green veggies, green smoothies and vegan, sattvic cooked foods.  Here it's mostly rice, sambar and dosa (all vegetarian of course).

When I first ventured to south India in 2010 I couldn't find anything organic.  Sure, big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have health food stores selling organic items.  But I'm in rural south India.  Sometimes we don't even have electricity!

To my surprise this year I discovered a few items using the word "organic" on the package.  I was skeptical at first.  "Yeah right," I thought.  But a funny thing, turns out it's actually legit.  Here's what I've learned about organics in India:

Similar to our system in North America, India has several third party organic certifiers.  If a product meets the certifier's standards, the package can feature their logo, thus reassuring the legitimacy of the product's organic claims (of course, finding genuine organic products is a problem back home too.  See my previous post on this topic for more information).

But here's where it gets interesting ... organic certification takes a few years.  Back home a product cannot bear the certifier's logo until this lengthy (and costly) process is completed (often it can take up to 2 years!).  One franchised company, Fab India, actually categorizes organic products depending on where the company is in the certification process, and then uses a corresponding logo to signal to customers where they are in this lengthy process.  This process is broken down into 3 steps:
  1. Natural - Produced by a farm that uses 100% organic methods, but has not taken the steps to officially certify (possibly due to the large costs).  This category also includes products that are mostly organic but may contain non-organic preservatives, dyes or flavourings.
  2. In Conversation - Producer is using organic methods but has not yet completed the 3 year process in order to be considered organic. 
  3. Certified Organic - Producer is recognized by a third party organization as using 100% organic methods.
I love it!!  Okay I know at this point I've probably lost a lot of you, but for those of you that are organic nerds like me, isn't this great?!  See other examples of my organic nerdy-ness here and here.

So far all of the organic items I've found are pre-packaged (teas, spices, lotions, etc ...).  I haven't seen fresh fruits or veggies marked as organic yet (again I'm just referring to my small corner of south India), but unless there was some kind of package with a certifier's logo on it, I wouldn't trust any organic claims anyhow.

So there you have it!  My organic report on south India.  Rest assured, you haven't heard the last of this from me.  So stay tuned for many more posts on organics!!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Gluten-Free Coconut Cupcake (with Coconut Frosting)

I think I might be obsessed with coconut.  I am definitely obsessed with coconut!  These gluten-free, vegan cupcakes are a coconut lover's dream.  Hot from the oven these little gems are sure to keep you warm on those cold winter nights. 
Now no more chit chat, here's the recipe:
for the cupcakes -
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut flour
  • 1 cup raw evaporated cane sugar (would be lovely to substitute coconut sugar if you can)
  • 1/2 cup shredded dried coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup almond milk (hemp milk might be nice too)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
for the frosting -
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • agave, honey or coconut nectar (to taste)
  • shredded dried coconut (for garnish)
Combine all the dry ingredients for the cupcakes in a bowl and mix well.  In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients.  Slowly add the wet to the dry and mix until well combined.  Pour into a muffin tin and bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes.
When the cupcakes are cooled, whip together the coconut oil and sweetener.  Give each one a generous dollop of frosting and then sprinkle with more shredded coconut. 
It really can't get any more coconutty than this!

What could be better ... um ... how 'bout chocolate gluten-free coconut cupcakes with chocolate coconut frosting!!

I just couldn't resist trying out a chocolate version.  Simply add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to the batter (chocolate chips in there might be nice too) and add some cocoa powder to the coconut oil frosting.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Law of Least Effort: It Doesn't Have To Be That Hard

It doesn't matter if you believe in them, or even realize that they exist, but everything and everyone in the universe acts in accordance with certain laws.  There's laws of gravity, laws of cause and effect and laws of attraction (made famous by the highly criticized movie, The Secret).  In Deepak Chopra's book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success he briefly discusses another law, one that turned my life upside down, the law of least effort.

Life is an up hill struggle and nothing worth while comes easily.  No pain, no gain.  Makes sense, right?  It used to make perfect sense to me until a few years ago when I started studying yoga.  Now I'm just starting to realize that it really doesn't have to be that difficult.  When you are living authentically the life that you were created to live, things easily and effortlessly become available to you.  It's The Law!  Nature (as is often the case) is the best example of this.  Deepak Chopra explains: 

"Grass doesn't try to grow, it just grows. Fish don't try to swim, they just swim. Flowers don't try to bloom, they bloom. Birds don't try to fly, they fly. This is their intrinsic nature. The earth doesn't try to spin on its own axis; it is the nature of the earth to spin with dizzying speed and to hurtle through space. It is the nature of babies to be in bliss. It is the nature of the sun to shine. It is the nature of the stars to glitter and sparkle. And it is human nature to make our dreams manifest into physical form, easily and effortlessly."
Wherever you're going in this life, whatever your dreams and heart's desires, achieving them doesn't have to be an uphill battle.  It's only when we struggle against our nature, against the laws of the universe that things become difficult.  You wouldn't expect to defy the laws of gravity by throwing an apple in the air and having it stay suspended there while you fold laundry.  Likewise you must also live according to the law of least effort.  One of the most powerful pieces of advice one of my yoga teachers said to me was to practice letting go and letting be.  Let that be your mantra from now on.  Putting aside expectations, anxieties and past life baggage to allow your unique divine path unfold naturally, effortlessly and with ease. 

The Bhagavad Gita describes this state of effortlessness as the action in inaction.  The Bhagvad Gita, a sacred text in India, chronicles the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the battlefield who is conflicted about his involvement in the war.  Lord Krishna guides Arjuna in his journey and discovery of right and wrong action.  One of the most profound verses is Chapter 4, verse 18, where Krishna explains how one can do very little, yet accomplish huge tasks.  In Swami Sivananda's translation the verse reads:

"He who seeth inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is a Yogi and performer of all actions".
My interpretation of this verse is you can physically appear to be doing nothing (effortlessness), but using the law of least effort also be hard at work making your deepest desires come true.  This verse shows us that although the physical body remains still (inaction), the higher self can still be busy at work (action).  On the other hand, we all know people who run themselves ragged following their every impulse and material whim (action).  But since these actions are not in accordance with their authentic selves, they are really going nowhere and doing nothing to grow and mature (inaction).

When we studied the Bhagavad Gita in my yoga teacher's training course, intellectually I understood this verse and could explain it's meaning in detail (it was one of the exam questions!).  But that was just cerebral.  I couldn't really understand it practically or see it's importance in my own life.  It made sense, but how could I living in this world put all this theory into practice?  I'm not Arjuna on the battlefield. 

Actually we are all Arjuna on the battlefield.  But it's not a battlefield, it's your life and you can chose whether it's spent in conflict, war, anxiety and doubt or bliss (ananada in Sanskrit).  Like anything in life, integrating the law of least effort into your life takes time, patience and lots of faith.  I still have days where I feel like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up hill.  But when I slow down, breathe and try to see beyond the temporary chaos, I always find an answer to help me through.  To help you integrate the law of least effort into your life, Deepak Chopera lists 3 techniques: 
  1. Acceptance - Accepting people, situations and everything that occurs.  If you believe that every challenge is present in your life to teach you and help guide you, you will realize your "difficulties" are really blessings. 
  2. Responsibility - Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you and how you chose to react to the difficult situations.  Whatever happens, ultimately you are the one that is allowing it to happen that way.
  3. Defenselessness - Sounds similar to helplessness, but it doesn't have to be.  Don't waste energy on fighting it, just surrender and let whatever comes, come.  Because believe me, life's difficult situations are going to come, whether you like it or not.  So why get on the defensive?  Instead see the lesson in the chaos and move on.
Wishing all of you an effortless journey forward this new year.

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