Becoming Unstuck

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Have you noticed that every other post on social media seems to speak to some deep-seeded human need to count the ways to success: “15 Things You Need to Stop Stressing About”; “The Top 20 Reasons You’re Not in a Thriving Relationship”; “5 Ways You Can Increase Your Libido RIGHT NOW”. In an almost child-like manner, akin to The Count on Sesame Street, we’re counting our way to the top, to be the best “us” we can be. But can following these pre-set “to-do” lists actually have measured, lasting impact on our day-to-day well being?

I recall reading a New York Times article (“How to Make Yourself Go to the Gym”, January 10, 2015), that highlighted researchers scrambling to find ways to enhance retention for those of us (ahem) who sign up for gym memberships with every intention of pedaling away on the elliptical and hefting kettle bells at least 2-3 times a week. Predictably, the numbers wane to less than half of enrolled users as the weeks and months wear on, when New Year’s resolutions take a back seat to a good Netflix binge-watching session. The article went on to describe researcher’s efforts to enhance gym attendance by providing members with digital age-appropriate solutions, from Audio Books on complimentary iPods, to employee-compensated gym visits, to self-established funds set aside for either self-remuneration or donation to charity, based on adherence to gym visits.

And like the enumerated lists, it got me thinking: Why this proliferation of financial or otherwise tangible reward for things that we already (purportedly) so desperately want: A loving relationship, a healthy body, a robust sex life, a low-stress lifestyle. If these things are SO important to us that we’ll collectively spend billions of dollars (and we do) on books and gurus and diets to magically unlock the secrets of our deepest happiness and success, why are so many people still “stuck” in unhealthy relationships, in constant battle with their bodies, and anxiously awaiting the weekend or the next vacation to escape the stress of the daily rat race?

Because, to really really create change in oneself, a whether it be establishing a concrete habit like engaging in physical activity, or breaking an emotional habit like staying in toxic relationship, or even examining a more spiritual habit like working in a job void of fulfillment and empowerment, one has to elicit change at the neurological level, altering the complicated chemical and electric pathways that zip information from our conscious to subconscious brain and back again. And this process not only requires a tremendous amount of self-inquiry and consistent effort on the part of the individual, but can take months and often years to successfully implement and sustain for lasting results. But the key word is “lasting”; gym attendance waxes and wanes, weight fluctuates season after season and holiday after holiday. So the question remains: Is measured, consistent change possible…(gasp) forever?

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to start the year by attending my second 10-day Vipassana course, a silent meditation practice nestled in the desert somewhere between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, CA. Vipassana, (a Pali word literally translating to “Inward Vision”), is a universal path aimed to provide an alternative way to manage the daily mental and physical sufferings we inevitably endure in our day-to-day lives. Predictably, emphasis was placed in the continuity of daily practice following the retreat as the ultimate predictor of success. Equally predictably, I initially committed to my requisite 2 hours of practice, 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening, with all the vigor of a sprint race and two months later, found myself squeezing in 5 minutes (if I was lucky) here and there, when a perfect storm of guilt and stress got the better of me.

If necessity is the mother of invention, I would proffer that consistency in self-examination and practice is the harbinger of change. So why not more social emphasis on ways to improve consistent practice of a new habit, if it has the potential to yield real results on such a universal level? Probably because consistency in and of itself is not sexy and it takes tremendous internal work, flying in the face of quick-fixes and 30-day results. Consistency in self-examination and practice do not require 3 installments of $395 to unlock; they aren’t represented in glossy photos bursting from the pages of a magazine, and they don’t fit in the pages of a fun beach read that you can nail down over Labor Day weekend. In short, consistency and self-examination are not marketable, and in this age of unabashed capitalism, if it’s not bringing in the dollars to someone, somewhere, it’s generally not going to gain mainstream traction.

For me, I find that self-examination and consistency in practice often come more readily when I want something badly enough. And if I didn’t know how badly I wanted it, my daily diligence to a task or pursuit or idea illuminates my passion and resolve, just as my avoidance of a practice is generally indicative of some unconscious resistance to the end goal (and that’s an entirely different topic!). As we forge ahead into 2020, a year many interpret as a mile marker of where we are in our collective culture and individual lives, it’s worth sitting down to examine our goals and intentions as they relate to the self-examination and consistent behavior required to achieve them; it could be the beginning of forever.

Taking on politics

I am not a professional journalist. And while I have contributed to various online and print publications, indeed, aside from traditional social media outlets, this blog is my only platform to publicly share my thoughts and feelings on areas of interest – everything from locavore food movements and world cuisine, to travel and cultural immersion, to meditation and yoga experiences. But like many, I have largely avoided the political fray. Despite being part of a State Championship team on Constitutional democracy called “We the People” in high school, modern politics has held a place on a shelf just beyond my grasp, to the extent that weighing in on it via media platforms has felt insignificant in the face of so many well-informed positions and offerings.

But not today. Because today, it finally occurred to me that what I DO know and have a firm grasp of, from years of self-study, exploration and application, is psychology and basic humanity. Not to mention a decade-long dedication to practicing empathy and boundary-setting, as well as developing a strong sense of self and appropriate action in the face of so many outside opinions, beliefs, and impositions on a daily basis.

And after this past week, a span of days that will no doubt turn into prolific dates that children of the future memorize for tests in history class, the weight of the political climate has turned into a language that I understand, a psychological foray that leaves basic politico verbiage like ‘Democrat’, ‘Republican’ and ‘policy’ as mere footnotes. I believe, beyond a shadow of the doubt, that the President is a pathological liar with severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I believe he borders on dementia, and that his insatiable quest for power has led him to begin to enact a coup of the highest order, one that places only a handful of morally and ethically flawed men in charge, in the name of “safety” and “peace”, while simultaneously creating the polar-opposite atmosphere on the streets.

Ten years ago when I began a journey to understand myself and my relationship to the world around me, I cut out the definition of “doublethink”, a term from George Orwell’s now eerily apropos 1984, because it represented how my mind was operating at that time with respect to relationships. Doublethink:  The ability to hold two separate and completely contradictory thoughts in your head and believe that both are true. When this modus operandi was pointed out to me by a therapist, I remember the utter confusion, despondency, frustration, and even fear that I felt because I could no longer trust my own thoughts. I had to relearn how to engage with myself and others in a way that was authentic and based in fact, rather than on notions of how I wanted things to be. I will say without hubris or judgment that few people can push through that fear to try to re-engage the world, and the self, in a healthier way, and that one particular group who are utterly incapable of it are true narcissists, because their mindset is synonymous with their character. It isn’t just behavior they can step outside of to view impartially, because their entire sense of self would crumble to the ground. Trump is such an individual. His “policies” are no more than a series of simple, albeit carefully planned, strategies to maintain his thin grasp of self as he has constructed it, and his tenuous maintenance of power.

And this weekend, as Trump’s elaborate actions to hold onto his sense of self invade on the inalienable human rights of our world’s citizens, it is vital to point out where his behavior stems from, because it’s not from ideologies that can be rationally challenged. For beneath his xenophobia, racism, and misogyny is the basic need to protect and defend his doublethink at all costs, the ultimate price of failure being his own implosion – not on a political level, but on a profoundly personal one. This is why it is particularly important to speak out during his tenure, be it short or full-term, to prevent the actions of a drowning, unwell man from threatening the safety, security, well-being, and human rights of thousands.

When I lived in larger cities like New York City and Boston and a mentally unstable individual started acting erratically in a subway car, you could shuffle into the next car, or get off at the next stop. And while it hurtles full-speed along an often bumpy track, the world is not a subway car; we cannot move cars, or step off so readily. And so we must defend ourselves and the others on the car. Because although the individual himself is often wholly unaware of the danger his actions impose (and indeed believes that his reality is the same one that every around him inhabits), the bottom line is that people’s lives are at risk. Especially when he holds the highest office in the country.

Nouveau Santa Barbara

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View from Anapamu St. looking toward The Arlington Theater, Santa Barbara

I admit it – I can be cynical. About the obscene beauty of my city, about the laid back nature of the people who dwell in it, and about the lack of culture and mixed worldviews that were omnipresent growing up in cities like New York and Boston. As an relatively optimistic person, it’s a bit eerie to excel at finding muck among the magic. And at first I thought, well, perhaps that’s the curse of spending 11 years in a small city (the same one where I initially felt the looming mountains to the East were closing in on me after a lifetime spent on the flat, tree-laden expanse of Cape Cod).

But this past Labor Day weekend, I had an epiphany – it’s not you Santa Barbara, it’s me. I’ve spent the past 4 years building a brick & mortar storefront that has effectively magnetized all my activity to the 4-block radius between my shop on 5 E Figueroa St and my nearby apartment. So effectively, in fact, that I visit the same 3 to 4 bars and restaurants (quality bars & restaurants nevertheless) on a rotating basis, all the while bemoaning the stagnant Santa Barbara scene. But this weekend, the City made me a believer.

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Bacon & Brine, Solvang

With 2 days off to call my own, I grabbed my friend (a fellow foodie) and high-tailed it 45 minutes over the winding Highway 154 to Santa Ynez Valley, to the kitschy village of Solvang, to give a round of applause (and let’s be honest, stuff my belly), for my industry friends Chef Pink and her wife Courtney, who just reopened their farm-to-table restaurant, Bacon & Brine, after closing for a Summer-long expansion. With a longstanding background in the restaurant industry, including minor celebrity status on Food Network shows like Cutthroat Kitchen and Bar Rescue, Chef Pink has cultivated a ‘hyperlocal’ philosophy that matches that of the famed Dan Barber at Blue Hill Farm, personally tending to every vegetable, every crusty loaf, and every pig that crosses her chopping block for sautéing, slicing, and slaughter. Her wife Courtney is the “Brine” of the duo, specializing in fermentation before it was trendy. Her sauerkrauts and kombucha live in a fridge on the dining room floor so that you can consider your probiotics while you take down a House Oak Smoked Bacon BLT or a Hipster (Fried Chicken, crispy pickle, shredded lettuce on a house-made donut!).

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The BLT at Bacon & Brine

Somehow, I managed to talk my dining partner, a long-time vegetarian, into joining me for the inaugural foray and she was duly impressed with her Vegg Head sandwich, stacked (and I mean STACKED) with lightly fried zucchini, the juiciest heirloom tomato, and sweet smoked peppers lined with basil aioli. My BLT was the epitome of sublime (think slabs of smoked bacon oozing their juices down your arm, sandwiched between thick slices of fresh, crusty French bread). We also shared a most unique Cantaloupe & Mint Gazpacho, pureed to a nearly smooth split-pea consistency with a spicy chili kick that had me tipping the bowl to my mouth, and not demurely! Making our way out of the cozy dining room (renovated entirely by Chef Pink and Courtney – we’re talking drywall, electrical, the works), we meandered sabhoulder-to-shoulder with every other tourist determined to capture the ebelskivers and faux windmills of Solvang with their oversized cameras.

Harboring little patience for the throngs, we made our way back over the hill to Lama Dog Brewery and Tap Room, THE new spot in the Funk Zone that services everyone from the uber-hip locals to the consummate weekenders. With 20 minutes to wait in line (a fate doled out when a capacity counter went awry), we were able to take in The Nook, a multi-million dollar renovated kitchen in an adjoining space next door that serves up posh bar grub (is that even a thing?) like Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with white truffle butter for $16 and a Duck Foie Gras Burger with Manchego cheese for $18.

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Lama Dog Taproom

Once we gained passage, we bellied up to the bar for my first Boochcraft Kombucha, a Watermelon + Mint + Chili on tap. This is the stuff they can’t serve at your favorite cafe, due to its high alcohol content (7%). There is something so post-modern about kombucha on tap at a quasi-sports bar! The setup of Lama Dog also diverges from tradition by putting patrons in control: Either order single glasses from an ever-changing electronic screen perched on the wall behind the bar, offering no less than 20 brews (and a few wines) on any given day, or choose a bottle of your favorite libation from the glass-doored refrigerators that line the back wall. Enter the cramped walk-in fridge to select your specialty cider or brew for an even more adventurous experience! There’s no additional charge to take your bottle to-go, and just a $2 corkage fee to enjoy it at the bar.

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Boochcraft Kombucha at Lama Dog

Bellies swimming in fermented goodness, we popped over to 211 Helena St, to the space formerly known as Red’s, now affixed with the moniker ‘Test Pilot’.  A modern Tiki Bar (emphasis on the modern), Test Pilot was started by the owners of The Good Lion on State St. Often a stop between the more rowdy Seven Bar & Kitchen and Figueroa Mountain Brewery, the aptly named Test Pilot is seeking to create their own niche; Manager Jonathan talked to us about the unique concept meant to lure in customers with the theme and kitsch but then, with a slight of hand, offer novelty cocktails not found on the typical Tiki menu. Like their sister bar, Test Pilot strives to be farm-to-bar, sourcing their ingredients from growers in the area. My drinking buddy and I shared the house version of the Piña Colada, complete with a frothy head and a floral-adorned garnish, and found it to be more traditional than expected!

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The Sea Wolf Room at Test Pilot

Day 2 of my born-again weekend took me to Santa Barbara Jet Boats on Cabrillo Blvd, located between West Beach and the Harbor, where my partner and I rented a double-seated Sea Doo for my inaugural jet skiing experience! I had always watched jet skiers with a mix of awe and trepidation as they spun donuts and zipped at an alarming clip along the open ocean surface. But being on one takes it to a whole new level! After a brief but useful verbal lesson on land, we slid easily out of the slip and chugged slowly through the channel toward the sea. The water was a little choppy, but it didn’t stop us from speeding in all directions, past sea lions and kayakers and tourists on the end of the pier and along the breakwater. I even tried my hand at driving for a few heart-racing minutes, summoning all my arm strength to steer us through the swells, and catching some serious air in the process!

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Photo Courtesy Santa Barbara Jet Boats

After so many novelty experiences, I needed something grounding to bring me back to my roots, and Santa Barbara Shellfish Company at the end the pier did the trick. Maybe it reminds me of the seafood shacks lining Cape Cod, or maybe it’s just small enough to feel quaint against the more touristy pier spots serving up Scorpion Bowls and Surf & Turf specials, but with their open kitchen, extensive menu, and live crabs putting on a show in the tanks along the windows, Shellfish Co. just makes me downright happy! Hair and skin salty from the surf, we sipped on Bloody Marys (not their forte) while we waited for our Shrimp Ceviche, Cioppino, and Coconut Shrimp dishes to arrive. Nothing disappointed! The ceviche was a tad rubbery and could have used a little more lime and salt to jazz it up, but I couldn’t stop eating the Coconut Shrimp, and took down the Cioppino (my favorite!) and its accompanying bread bowl like a champ.

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Photo courtesy Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

So Santa Barbara, if you’ll take me back, I’ll still have you. We may have explored other options and gone through a dry spell, but I promise I’ll be faithful (for the foreseeable future, at least) and never speak badly about you behind your back. All I ask in return is that you keep it fresh and continue to work me over with your winsome ways. It takes two, Santa Barbara, it takes two.

 

Palm Springs: Beyond the Kitsch

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Palm Canyon Drive, downtown Palm Springs

How I began gravitating to Palm Springs, I have absolutely no idea. Coming from someone who had a pretty intense loathing of the mountains that loomed over one side of Santa Barbara when I first moved here, calling them “claustrophobic-inducing,” I now take annual respite in a place that is literally enclosed by the same variety of mountain, one in particular a seemingly sheer rock face bearing down on the South side of the town, like a craggy tidal wave ready to envelop its unsuspecting inhabitants in a shale and limestone swell at any moment, a sort of reverse point break.

 

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Ace Hotel: Photo courtesy Ace Hotel Group

In a land where gay men call each other cookie (really) and speak about sex more casually than your average Generation Y teen (threezy anyone?), where the woman are impossibly bedazzled and the men impeccably chiseled, I have found a sort of dystopian refuge. I arrived at the Ace Hotel, THE hipster hideaway in a renovated Howard Johnson’s-turned-Dennys-turned-urban oasis, following a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat, so all my senses were automatically ultra-heightened. At the front desk, I quickly remembered one of the hundred and one reasons I love gay men, compliments flowing with no ulterior agenda, and ready to chat and gossip like friends upon initial greeting. Later that day, sitting at the now sadly closed Espresso Cielo, a simple but cute coffee shop on the main Palm Canyon drag in the heart of downtown, I felt fawned over by the barista in the Broncos sweatshirt, a perfect counter to the Patriots one I had donned that morning (if I’m being honest, I had tossed it on the day prior and had yet to change. A 10-day retreat in the middle of nowhere sort of puts hygiene on the back burner).

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Espresso Cielo: Photo courtesy Yelp.com

But here were cherubic men praising my hair color and, if I hadn’t known better, flirting up a storm. When I picked up my tea pot (presented on a silver platter) to find a sharpie heart hastily scrawled beneath, I briefly wondered if this hidden gem was left for every caffeine-imbibing patron to unearth, or if I was being singled out in a display of affection and admiration. Ultimately, my ego wanted and I decided it didn’t matter because it made me happy, and it was just the beginning of a day of sweet, loving connections with genuine dessert-ites. From the woman in the clothing store where I bought my chinzy shawl who asked me question after question about my retreat experience to the guy hawking samples outside Brandini Toffee,  I felt quickly at appreciated and at home in the middle of nowhere.

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Workshop Kitchen + Bar: Photo Credit Wall Street Journal

That evening I made it to Workshop Kitchen + Bar, once an under the radar farm-to-table restaurant, and now a James Beard award-winner set up in a 90-year old former movie theater that is hidden no more; I felt like I had stepped into a different city entirely! Gone was the kitsch and glitter and sun soaked displays of Palm Canyon drive, and in their place lay the most wonderful minimalist, steel gray interior I had ever had the pleasure of stepping into. One single, long industrial table lay in front of me, a row of no less than 20 naked lightbulbs perfectly and symmetrically aligned along its length from the ceiling. To the right and left, individual booths mirrored one another, like monastic cells that you might actually want to crawl into with a Merino blanket and hardcover book and stay awhile. At the end of the row, a raw polished concrete floor took two wide, shallow steps down into a full bar that spanned the narrow width of the restaurant.

Until I ordered my first drink from the female bartender (Priscilla), never did I know that abstaining from alcohol could have such merit. The “Carrot Penicillin” went down like a soothing balm, at once reviving and settling me to my core. I swore I’d stop at the bread and carrot butter with bread, wouldn’t make it past the Cauliflower Pureed soup, couldn’t possibly finish my Market Veggie Enchiladas with Spaghetti Squash and Dates, and would positively refuse the Kabocha Black Beer Bread Pudding. But there I found myself an hour later, staring down a thick slab of bread one might have mistaken for a piece of burnt toast left on the counter from that morning’s woebegone breakfast, were it not for the pool of creme anglaise beneath and the ribbon of caramel flattering its surface.

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Workshop Kitchen + Bar: Photo courtesy Workshop Kitchen + Bar

When a young gentleman sat down 2 seats away to order a glass of wine, I couldn’t help but let my gastronomic experience spill over to his place setting. He declined my offer of a bite with a polite smile and a, “you’re so sweet,” his timber belying his gay tendencies. He was joined by a friend a few moments later and I tried not to roll my eyes as they sighed and made comments like, “Why does every party we go to have to be in a mansion?”.

Once we started chatting, however, we became a fast clan, welcoming in more to our fold one by one as the night stretched on. The second member, my blond Ryan Gosling look-alike bar neighbor, quickly became my favorite of the bunch and I let him ramble on and on about his new lover, a highly successful and well-known interior designer who seemed Ryan seemed to feel had genuine intentions in return. We chatted as the evening waned, joined sporadically by my original bar mate Ishmael, who kept flitting off to join a friend’s birthday party at the other end of the restaurant. Ultimately, he ended up being the most sarcastic and quippy of the bunch, but also proved most genuinely kind as he covered my entire meal under the guise of admiring the white credit card I laid down atop my bill. I couldn’t help but be entertained and superficially flattered when the gay men interspersed their self-involved stories of love triangles and Vegas-appropriate outfits with compliments on my hair color, lips, nose (nose?!), and hastily purchased $20 shawl. The conclusion? “You’re gorgeous with a ‘good face’”. Who wouldn’t take that and sleep well at night? The clever, driven lesbian restaurant entrepreneur from Juneau, Alaska with 3 names, like someone out of a country song, was just extra icing on the proverbial cake.

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The Saguaro Palm Springs: Photo courtesy ©markbrooke.com

While this particular visit was a whirlwind 36 hours, my more extensive trips to Palm Springs have taken me to fun hideaways like the El Jefe and Tinto (now Rocco’s Electric) at The Saguaro Palm Springs, universally loved brunch joints like Cheeky’s and Lulu’s, and trendy hot spots like Trio and The Riviera pool. All highly recommended for your next venture into the desert!

 

Vipassana Retreat 101 (take 2)

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Dhamma Vaddhana, Twentynine Palms

My breakdown came on Day 1. I had made it through the evening of Day 0, a mere 4 hours. I think I signed up for a second 10-day Vipassana retreat because I hadn’t given myself enough time to really sit and think about what I was willingly committing myself to…again. And to be fair, when I did take the time to scan my old journals for any reference to the first retreat in 2012, I could find no record of my visit, save for a large blocked out area of my 2012 planner, immediately following the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Valentine’s Day, and right before an intense break-up I didn’t yet know was coming.

In retrospect, perhaps I subconsciously omitted any reflections on purpose, knowing on some subatomic level that I would require it again one day and that I needed to go in with only milky recollections of those “sensational” days. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy and wasn’t in a writing upswing. Either way, there I was, pulling up to the same Vipassana Center, Dhamma Vaddhana, wedged in between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms along the 29 Palms Highway (speedway).

And there I was on Day 1, having a full-blown, blubbering breakdown on Mat B1, a position that made me feel self-important for approximately 3.5 hours. As a new student, you are afforded a mat in one of the front 2 rows, assuming perhaps that now you possess some higher vibration to be closer to the teacher, the servers, and the speakers. Or maybe they’re just more concerned about new students having a breakdown built on preconceived ideas, like the one I was having in that exact moment.

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Vipassana Meditation Hall:  Photo courtesy Luke Shavak

Not a yoga mat’s length from the feet of the female assistant teacher, and also a mat’s width horizontally from the men’s side of the room (which, let’s face it, has an even more magical magnetic pull the more distance you are mandated to keep from it), I sat crying silent, hot tears that I carelessly smeared away with my new wool Free People shawl. I had been so excited to own my first real shawl (How retro! How sheik!) when I purchased it as a Christmas present for myself, but in that moment it became nothing more than a damp rag, smelling vaguely like a wet dog that’s perhaps gotten a fresh shampoo and then gotten dirty again too soon.

My knees ached in a way that felt permanent. Because when you’re facing 10 days of sitting for 12 hours a piece, everything feels impossibly permanent. And when I stretched my legs in front of me, as I’d done for 90% of the time on my first course, the Manager swooped in like a vaguely ominous gargoyle. “You’re an old student, right?” she whispered in a hushed inquiry that sounded more like a deposition. “You know you’re not supposed to have your legs pointing toward the teachers.” I looked at her with genuine surprise. This apparently very crucial guideline had escaped me entirely the first time around, perhaps because I was in the very back row as a new student, and far enough to the side that my outstretched legs pointed at the corner of the room and away from the teachers’ elevated mats. “You can stretch your legs to the side, like this” she whispered again, demonstrating a sort of side-leaning stance with her own body. I acquiesced like a good student, slightly embarrassed and ego mildly bruised, and prepared to demonstrate that I could follow the rules. I was an old student. I was a pro.

But I discovered very quickly that the side-angled position, legs curled up under me, ran a very close second to the most painful position into which I could contort my knees. Not to be thwarted, I took my legs and slowly, painstakingly stretched them almost straight into the segregator aisle to the left, still supporting myself with my arm and hand to the right. I felt like a distorted mermaid, awkwardly sunning myself on a craggy knoll, all the while wanting to leap back into the cool, free form waves. Eyes closed, I attempted to slip back into the first of approximately 30 1-hour “Sittings of Strong Determination”, designed to strengthen the mind and body simultaneously.

Another few searing minutes passed. Again, the gargoyle was at my side. I popped my eyes in wary surprise. “So, you need to face forward and keep your legs out of the aisle” she admonished quietly, nodding toward my twisted torso and awkwardly splayed legs. I looked at her with weepy defeat, and she could see it in my eyes. “Maybe try bringing your legs to the other side?” she suggested tentatively, and I glanced warily at the 6 inch space between my mat and the mat to my right, barely large enough to contain my foot. With stoic determination I silently nodded my chin in agreement that yes, somehow my muscular calves and size 10 feet could be cozily accommodated in that sliver of floor space. Inside, I was crushed. The reality of what I had signed up for versus the loftier versions I had concocted met in a violent crescendo above my head and came pouring down in a torrent of salty and searing tears. Why had I willingly done this to myself again? This was not the right time, it was 100 times harder than I remembered, I was a terrible example as an old student to the new students who sat five rows deep behind me. The level of overwhelm on Day 1 was crushing.

The sitting ended a few minutes later and for the third time in an hour, the Manager came half crawling, half loping from her mat to mine. “Are you ok?” she asked with more fear than empathetic concern, likely confused as to how her simple directions could have induced such a torrent of self pity. Right before I left for the course, I had watched GI Jane on Netflix, one of my favorite films, for some hardcore mental preparation. “I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself,” the Master Chief warns his new charges in no uncertain terms: “A bird will fall frozen from the bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” All my self-pity was now reeling against my former resolve with salty aplomb. As I hobbled to the assistant teacher’s feet to state the case for my sorry knees, I felt about as a humble as the Buddha himself (Ah! Cartharsis briefly achieved!).

But humility quickly disintegrated into humiliation as I slunk to my newly assigned position in a chair against the far wall of the room. This felt wrong. The chairs were for old people with backs plagued by decades of decay and the weak-minded who couldn’t handle a little healthy cross-legged repose for a few days. Now I was among the meek, the crippled, the “special cases” who needed a chair to meditate. How un-zen like was that??

The sunsets saved me. As a born and bred New Englander who does not feel the gravitational pull of the dessert, I was completely unprepared for the moments of absolute rapture that I felt while taking in the sky as I passed from one low-slung khaki-colored building to the next. On one particular afternoon on Day 4, after the first round of actual Vipassana training (following 3 1/2 days straight of Anapana breath work (essentially  observing your breath as it hits the nostrils on the inhale and the exhale…for 12 hours), I exited the Dhamma Meditation Hall to a sky that came as close to making me cry as any meteorological phenomenon ever has. It wasn’t so much the color, (though maybe I’m just more numb to the wonders of such a palette after 9 years of knock-you-to-your-knees sunsets in Santa Barbara), but the way the clouds formed an almost hurricane like pattern, with an eye from which a wicked swirl of clouds spun in uneven semi-concenric circles covering the entire visible sky, literally stopped me dead in my tracks. From the corner of my eye, I could see the other students also coming to an abrupt halt and we stood like that for what seemed like a half hour just staring in a staggered line facing West. No iPhones were present to capture the scene, no words or glances could be exchanged to acknowledge the obscene beauty. And that is almost certainly an element of what made it so powerful: Every emotion it evoked, every exclamation of its magnificence and grandeur had to be felt inside and reverberate there with steady resonance. And as those little balls of quiet energy bounced from chest to throat and palpitated softly against stomach and thighs, they grew in intensity and purity, until our bodies thrummed with the pulsation of the sunset itself.

S.N. Goenka

S.N. Goenka

And this is the best way I know to describe the essence of the Vipassana meditation technique. Vipassana, (a Pali word literally translating to “Inward Vision”), is a path of meditation brought to light by the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, more than 2500 years ago in ancient India. It is not a sectarian practice, but rather a universal law aimed to relieve humans of their daily mental and physical suffering and misery. It involves three primarily stages: Silla, Samadhi, and Panye, each one a step on the path of Dhamma leading to the ultimate goal of full liberation.

By training the mind to react to bodily sensations with equanimity, the brain is being re-trained to follow the same pathway when real-world situation arise, to which the body always reacts FIRST by creating a sensation in response to a stimulus and to which the subconscious mind responds SECOND by reacting to that sensation, not to the stimulus itself. The understanding is that, if you can re-train the subconscious mind to have an equanimous reaction to all stimuli, then you can approach the world at large in a more balanced and clear way, making decisions and acting (or not acting) out of blind response, but out of very conscious and deliberate, steady choice. In doing so, you end up ultimately acting out of love and compassion, not out of anger, spite, fear, and pain or out of jealously, craving, and passion.

As relatively easy as this process is to understand at the intellectual level, the entire point of Vipassana is that it is only successful (i.e. you only reap the results) when it is applied at the experiential level (i.e. you practice Vipassana daily).

I remember one day in particular, perhaps Day 4 or 5, I chose to do the post-lunch sitting in my room as I typically opted for, having discovered that I could successfully meditate in a reclined position. I would carefully place my pillow at the opposite end of the twin bed (so my body wouldn’t get confused and equate meditating with sleeping) and position myself in the center of the comforter, first wrapping the end up and over my feet and then folding in each side over me like a burrito, myself the inert, serene filling.

I had just settled in and was enjoying my pain-free back perhaps a little too much when my neighbor to the right started in on her soft snore, followed shortly thereafter by the neighbor to my left who seemed to endlessly flush the toilet and perform other activities that involved copious amounts of pouring and utilizing water in some fashion that I could only speculate for days on end. Lacking the mental stamina for equanimity with such obtrusive background noises, I stuck in my pre-meditated earplugs and settled back into my flannel tortilla ready for serenity now, serenity now. The sounds of my own blood pressure whooshed in my ears at tympanic intervals, louder and more resolutely than all the previous offending noises combined. And I had to smile, because who could hate the sound of a heartbeat, save for Amontillado himself?

When I found myself weeping from relief on Day 10 the moment we were permitted to speak again, I reflected back on Day 1 to my crying jag that set off the retreat. Was I able to treat this tearful experience with more equanimity and less judgment than the first? Perhaps, though I certainly don’t pretend to have kept up a consistent practice since then, as the course strongly encourages. But somehow, on a cellular level, those nearly 150 hours of meditation are seared into my body and even the occasional, fleeting moments of calm and non-reaction are worth the whole messy, beautiful experience. Which is, perhaps, the entire point.

Los Angeles, repent!

LA Skyline

Painting by Elena Romanova/RomanovArtStudio

When I was in high school, I worked at a women’s boutique on Cape Cod called Pentimento, a wonderful Main Street staple with wide windows decked in old glass, the kind that seems to undulate at the right angle.  The shop hosted an overwhelming volume of inventory that was constantly changing, and while the feel of the store remained the same, the merchandise and layout took on dozens of iterations in its (ongoing) lifespan. It was one of the reasons the perceptive owner christened the store as she did; by definition, the Italian word pentimento (pl. pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent. And with this ancient definition in tow, I recently spent a quick but illuminating 24 hours in present day Los Angeles.

Over the last decade or so, LA has been undergoing a slow but very distinct renaissance, with each neighborhood stepping into its own and claiming its identity with more cultural fervor and genuine joie de vive than in decades past. Beloved food writer Jonathan Gold was one of the first to highlight this phenomenon through his prolific musings disguised as restaurant reviews in the LA Times, and now pedestrians too are catching on to the diverse magic that is LA.

LA Map

I LOVE maps; everything makes sense!

When I arrived in Historic Filipino Town at my friend’s apartment where I would be staying for the night, I was struck first by the cleanliness of the area. A few blocks from historic Sunset Boulevard and frequently not listed as a distinct neighborhood on a map, Filipino Town was only officially created in 2002 and comprises the Southwest corner of Echo Park. It is its own brand of charming: Neat and compact houses with miniature lawns line up side by side like boxcars ready to be transported. And in fact, my friend’s apartment was not unlike one of the new museums springing up downtown; she a jewelry maker and designer and her boyfriend a welder and woodworker, the two represent much of what LA has birthed: a renaissance city that finds its artists and creatives suddenly at the forefront, rather than tucked furtively in forgotten warehouses and rejected corners of the city. Their work was always there; it’s just being presented with fresh energy, front and center.

Ready to be out and about, we started our evening in Silverlake, perhaps one of the more gentrified neighborhoods to unfold in LA in recent years, neighboring and almost swallowing parts of Echo Park and Historic Filipino Town (an area my friend calls the “Bermuda Triangle” of neighborhoods for its puzzle-like assemblage). At a funky, oversized standalone restaurant/bar called Barella Bar & Kitchen, we tucked in to Ahi Tartare and surprisingly authentic Sangria from their very reasonably priced Happy Hour menu (7 days a week! My kind of spot). Then is was time to prepare for an evening downtown, beginning with The Rooftop at The Standard Hotel, the mere mention of which perks the ears of hip millennials and sends local punching at their cell phones to seek out inside connections to the top. Luckily, we had very good connections and found ourselves sent straight to the roof (but not before we were physically accosted to join a rowdy crew coming down the elevator as we went up, and not-so-covertly offered an illicit drug sale by a grinning dealer shifting from foot to foot – welcome to LA!). We lolled for a bit on the egg-shaped waterbeds lining the wall that overlooked the glittering city skyline beyond, as we people-watched people watching other people gliding in and out of the rooftop pool with their impeccably toned bodies, an ironic glassed in gym framing them, just one skyscraper over.

But The Rooftop was preparing for a private party, far above our social strata I’m sure, so we made our way down to street level once again and a few blocks over to Miro, a swanky new restaurant and whiskey room on the block whose bar is managed by a highly talented and former Santa Barbara bartender and restaurant manager, George Piperis. Thanks to George, we got the full tour, from the expansive main dining room and bar adorned with a series of Restoration Hardware-looking rustic light fixtures, to the basement bar and reserve Whiskey Room, stocked with tens of thousands of dollars worth of rare and fine whiskeys, enjoyed by the aficionado and curious novice alike. I ultimately indulged in one (or was it two?) superbly crafted Paper Plane and shared small plates of Bacalao and Potato Croquetas (accompanied by an insanely addictive garlic aioli) and a simple, fresh Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata (oh burrata how I love thee!). Surprisingly it was the bread service that really blew us away, so much so that we took some to go: Fresh and flakey focaccia bread wedges simply served with a salted butter round and a shallow dish of impeccable olive oil. I will eat bread when the quality warrants it, and man oh man did this win me over!

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Miro Whiskey Room. Photo courtesy Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times

Our gastronomic tour not quite complete, we rounded out our tapas with tacos from one of the many famous taco stands that dot the city sidewalks. This one, generously named The Greatest Taco Stand, was just around the corner from my friend’s apartment at Beverly and Lafayette, but seemed pretty standard in its offerings (and by standard, I mean melt-in-your-mouth delicious): A variety of meats, from the familiar chicken or pork to the exotic tongue and other body parts of note, topped with your choice of about a bazillion freshly made salsas, and a side of beans and rice if you need a heartier midnight snack. All for a mere $1.50 a piece!

Taco Stand

Photo courtesy Jorge Gonzales/L.A. Taco

The next morning, after a late night of too much food and just enough whiskey, we were ready to sweat it out at One Down Dog, a funky second-floor yoga studio in Silverlake, where we spent 75 minutes doing a high octane mix of yoga, cardio, and strength moves to throbbing music with an instructor one part yogi, two parts fitness competitor and 300 parts energy, that left us puddles on the floor, almost literally!

And for that, the only remedy was my inaugural trip to Umami Burger in Los Feliz on Hollywood Blvd, tucked smartly amid the thrift stores, wild costume shops, and hipster coffee joints. For the uninitiated, Umami Burger is a Los Angeles-based hamburger chain that rapidly expanded throughout California, the country, and the world (there is now a location in Japan!). They draw crowds for their ability to manipulate the umami flavor – the “5th flavor” as it’s often called, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Originating in Japan, umami is naturally occurring in many foods and Umami Burger takes these ingredients and combines them to create the one of the most addictive, flavorful burgers around! I eat a hamburger once or twice a year, and I have to say, I’m glad I allotted one for this occasion. I split the aptly titled Umami Burger (parmesan frico, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and Umami ketchup) and a slightly healthier lettuce-wrapped Ahi Tuna Burger (seared ahi patty, daikon sprouts, crushed avocado, gingered carrots, wasabi flake, and wasabi tartar) with my friend and her boyfriend, and we all munched on their shoestring fries and malt-battered onion rings, along with their selection of famous sauces (I literally could not stop eating them). Their $5 glasses of rosè don’t hurt their reputation either!

One Down Dog

Photo courtesy One Down Dog

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The Umami Burger. Photo courtesy Jakob N. Layman/Time Out Los Angeles

More satisfied than I’ve been with a meal in ages, we decided to take an epic walk to counteract our splurge, first around Echo Park Lake, a gorgeous Central Park-like oasis, complete with little paddle boats for rent, central geysers obscuring the city skyline beyond, and chock full of lotus flowers and ducks happy to take what tourists toss their way. Just up the hill, Downtown Echo Park is dotted with an amazing selection of adorable vintage shops and hip eateries, like the small vegan chain Sage Bistro where I happily took down a tasty vegan coffee ice cream cone. As a fellow gourmet food shop owner, I was especially enamored by Cookbook, a gem of a store full of fresh and colorful produce displays along with sumptuous-looking grab-and-go items, cheeses, pastries, and a few stainless steel metro shelves laden with various cooking accoutrements.

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Echo Park Lake

 

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Vintage shops abound in Echo Park

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Cookbook Grocer, Echo Park

Up the next hill and into Allegiant Park we went, skirting Dodger Stadium (the next trip perhaps??) and several miles over into the Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights neighborhoods, a less gentrified region of the city but clearly with it’s own strong character and appeal. In the middle of warehouses dedicated to all sorts of artistic endeavors, from welding to woodworking to Burning Man workshops (we’re not in the Funk Zone anymore Toto), we landed at Barbara’s at the Brewery, the original Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery in fact, where I tasted my first (and apparently, the world’s first) ‘black cider’ by 101 Cider House out of Westlake Village – absolutely outstanding! Actual activated charcoal derived from coconuts gives it its distinguishing look, and Ventura County lemons round out a most unique flavor. It’s even probiotic certified, with zero sugar, completely raw, and naturally sparkling, so it tastes more like a creamy kombucha than anything. The Dietitian in me approved!

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A mere 24 hours later as I hopped back on the 101 North, I couldn’t help but think that the pentimenti of Los Angeles were only just beginning to show, that the layers would continue to pile on and peel away, and that we should only be so lucky for such a phenomenon to continue until the end of days (no repentance needed).

It’s Always Summer in Summerland

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I always thought staycations were overrated. I mean, how much could you really enjoy the coveted benefits of a break if your place of work remained in your backyard and all the typical diurnal triggers accosted you from every angle (I’m looking at you stack of bills on the kitchen table). But this past weekend, I compromised and took the 10 minute drive South to the sleepy hollow of Summerland, a town as magical as it sounds, nestled into the cliffs of the Cental California Coast. The 101 Freeway the only manmade element separating the rambling homes and quaint shops from expansive beach and the azure sea, the traffic becomes a mere whisper once you plant yourself on Lillie Avenue, the main thoroughfare that connects Ortega Hill on the North end to Carpinteria on the South.
The day started with the traditional June Gloom fog bank hovering over the town, so my travel companion and I took refuge inside Summerland Beach Cafe, a local relic that seems more like a traditional New Hampshire Inn (sorry, closeted East Coaster here) than the West Coast institution that it is. As we slid into the old wooden booth, I took in the musty books lining a near-hidden shelf close to the ceiling, and the wooden beams that criss-crossed above us, just like my family kitchen growing up on Cape Cod. We were less than impressed with the meal itself – my “Veggie Workout” omelette could not have been less frillier: A flat egg-pancake folded over a bland mish-mash of vegetables that had likely been removed from a commercial freezer bag and steamed for approximately 2.5 minutes. But sides of avocado and home fries, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and delicious apple butter on English muffin saved the day!

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Next it was a short walk down Lillie Ave to the McLeod Parrot Menagerie, owned by long-time friend and client Jamie McLeod. A veritable Dr. Doolittle, Jamie has devoted her life to  housing, rehabilitating, and adopting out displaced exotic birds, particularly parrots, and her genuine affection for these surprisingly emotionally intelligent bird shines at the Menagerie. Walking up the porch steps, we were greeted by a duet of parrots welcoming us with inquisitive cocked heads and hearty “hellos”. Upon entering the shop, a bevy of familiar birds from my visits to Jamie’s jungle-like home high above the village of Montecito greeted us their big quizzical eyes, including Dolly, the “queen” of the shop. Just don’t turn your back on her! For a $5 donation, you can venture out back to a surprisingly large tiered patio of dozens of gorgeous birds, some clearly in recovery from abusive homes, others cheerfully chatting away (I was drawn to the “Boys in the Hood” a central cage featuring 5 or 6 parrots, relegated there for their rough behavior and sneaky ways – watch your jewelry!).

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Birds still screeching behind us, we meandered another few hundred yards up the road to The Sacred Space, a shop/meditation retreat/spiritual wonderland tucked behind a deified wall of frises and sculptures. Stepping inside, you enter another realm, with low-ceilinged room upon room beckoning with overflowing shelves of buddha-emblemed knick-knacks, semi-precious stones, incense, spiritual books, and so much more, while the music of Enya croons in the background. But the real magic starts once you step out the back door into a breathtaking garden punctuated by a series of pathways, ponds and altars, all highlighting a stunning central dias under a pagoda-like roof, complete with a comfy setee on which to recline while you journal, meditate, or simply take in beauty of the serene setting. Watching the red dragon flys circle each other in reckless loops and listening to the nearly forgotten sound of running water trickling between fountain and pond (the Southern California drought remains in full swing), it was a struggle to remember that I was 10 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Santa Barbara, and not in a Hindu monastery in Bali.

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Souls soothed and bodies revived with a beautiful tea service, we were off once more to checkout the little independent shops that line Lillie Ave, including the Bikini Factory, Bestow Pottery (tucked inside the cutest little camper you ever saw), and Summerland Winery. With the white and grey veranda of the latter, I had another East Coast moment as we sipped their excellent Rosè of Pinot Noir and watched the fog bank threaten to leave and then ultimately decide to stay.

Taken by D.Hedden 2015

Photo Credit: D.Hedden 2015

A quick, unexpected visit to the legendary Nugget Bar & Grill for sweet potato fries (excellent!) and then it was off to our hidden mecca: Skin Harmonics.  Owned and operated by long-time esthetician Danny Neifert, the little treatment center is the very definition of dermal health. Danny utilizes a patented technique called Dermal Remodeling and a combination of Osmosis and Vital C products to treat her patients, and I’ve put my facial care in her capable hands for the past 6 years. Though she specializes in problem skin (think rosacea, cystic acne, and other annoying outbreaks), Danny also helps prevent potential skin demise as you age, by providing deep (deeeeeep) extractions to clear old blockages and moisturizing balms to soothe and revive dryness and fine lines. I get compliments on my glowing skin following a treatment from Danny every.single.time. It’s more than worth the investment!

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The sun never did come out, but we felt the Summer vibe the entire day – that’s the effect Summerland has on you! Cheers!

 

Eat Your Drink, Live!

IMG_0224Like most food-forward cities, the art of the farm-to-table cocktail has quickly become a pre-requisite for bars and restaurants clamoring to be among the elite uber-hip. And just when you think the garnish can’t get any swankier and the mixers can’t get any more farm-friendly, a mixologist so innovative, so dedicated to his craft comes along that all your cynical thoughts about the nouveau cocktail are waylaid. Welcome to the world of Matthew Biancaniello, mixologist/forager extraordinaire.

A sales representative for Time Out New York only 7 short years ago, Matthew has since blown to the top of everyone’s “Best Bartender Ever” list in a frenzy of network television appearances, pop-up events, and a new book published in March of this year: “Eat Your Drink”. In fact, Matthew’s entire approach to the craft cocktail is centered around the Japanese concept of Omakase, the art of creating an intimate exchange, whereby the chef chooses the food or drink based on the personal rapport that develops between guest and host. Matthew takes farm-to-bar one giant step further by creating a ground-to-glass scenario, shaped by foraging techniques he picked up over the course of his self-taught training that included mentors like Dale DeGroff, Pascal Baudar, and Geri Miller of HGEL – pioneers in the cocktail, foraging, and gardening fields in their own right.

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Mere mortals, including myself, were lucky enough to engage in an evening with Matthew and his sidekick at Sama Sama Kitchen, in an event aptly titled “Eat Your Drink”, dreamed up by Jeremey Boehrer of Still: Elevate Your Ethanol and Five and a Quarter.  No menus were to be found (a standard exemption under Matthew’s intuitive approach), on the back patio of Sama Sama, where we were greeted by a farm cart overflowing with verdant greens, petit flora, and a bounty of still-breathing veggies, all handpicked from the Santa Barbara Farmers Market on State Street only hours prior. In fact, Matthew will visit no fewer than 5 Southern California Farmers Markets in any given week to create his liquid masterpieces, in addition to foraging the Santa Monica Mountains, and plucking speciality vegetables and herbs from his home garden.

In a sort of alcoholic enneagram, Matthew asked guests to describe their favorite foods and voila! A cocktail so unique, so unexpected, and so suited to individual tastes appeared table side. Our first round, The Heirloom Tomato Mojito, was presented with an entire head of garlic, courtesy of Milliken Family Farms. The novelty of the white orb gently bobbing in a dense pool of viscous amber gave way to the most savory, drinkable cocktail I’ve ever had the pleasure of ingesting. Swearing off kissing for the foreseeable future, my drinking companion and I happily popped cloves of garlic into our mouths between sips, almost tasting the soil and gardens from whence the ingredients came. I alternated between this and our other concoction, a gin-based, electric green mixture with muddled arugula, violet flowers, and fresh sprouts, among other greenery, that might as well have been a salad in a glass, for all the garden-goodness it was packing! I can’t recall the name, but if I had to create one, it would have been “The Peas de Résistance”:) We easily took down 2 more equally crafty cocktails, and on our way out the door, Matthew chased us donw to present his final creation (Surprise Twist: We didn’t turn him down).

By popular demand, Matthew returns to Sama Sama on August 3rd for Round 2 – DO NOT MISS THIS! (But if you do, he is slated to open his own location Santa Monica this Fall).

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A Matcha Moment

Hello! Amy was sweet enough to let me do a guest post while I intern with her for a week as I finish up my program to become a registered dietitian nutritionist! Let me introduce myself- my name is Alexandra, and I am a total foodie with a nutrition and lifestyle blog called bouquets and baguettes. Feel free to check it out for yummy, healthy recipes, and all things sunny, joyful, and wellness-oriented.

If you don’t know by now, Amy has a fabulous boutique artisan food shop called Isabella Gourmet Foods. I remember the first time I walked into the store, I was delighted. It is like a foodie’s dream! Think locally handcrafted goodies like vegan doughnuts, elevated popcorn, and small batch jams. What really caught my eye (and what ended up being my first purchase in her shop) was the Mizuba Matcha green tea.

Now, I consider myself to be a bit of a matcha connoisseur, and an OG matcha lover, as I have been drinking and eating all things matcha since before it was trendy. We are talking circa 2008, people. The matcha love runs deep. In that time, I have tried plenty of different matcha powders, weeding out the duds and searching for the best. Mizuba is my favorite. It is high quality, non-GMO matcha straight out of the Uji region of Japan.  FYI, Uji is the cream of the crop, the birthplace of Japanese green tea, so you know it’s gotta be good.

A good matcha has a subtly sweet, grassy flavor and is vibrantly green. The greener, the better!  (See photographic evidence below to see how green Mizuba matcha is.) But why,oh why, should you be drinking a matcha a day? Allow me to fill you in on the drinkable deets.

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Matcha is a powder made from grinding up green tea leaves. So you are literally consuming the whole tea leaf with each sip rather than sipping a steeped tea. This means that you are getting a serious punch of catechins like EGCG, which are compounds found in green tea with high antioxidant activity. Antioxidants protect against everything from inflammation to cancer, and the  effects of daily stress and environmental pollution. Matcha for the win!

Matcha is also really high is chlorophyll (the pigment that makes leaves so green),  which helps to increase the body’s capacity to oxygenate the blood, which is great to help fight fatigue or power you through a workout. Try switching out your daily coffee with a cup of matcha tea. Its caffeine kick is less intense, but it contains L-theanine, an amino acid that aids in the production of a state of calm-alertness. Translation: you’ll feel productive and awake, without jitters or crashes. I think it’s safe to say green is the new black (coffee).

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Hot or iced, matcha can do no wrong. A matcha latte is a tried-and-true favorite, but let me fill you in on a little tip if you are going the latte route: make sure you choose a non-dairy alternative as your “milk”.  Casein, a type of protein in milk, actually binds to the catechins in matcha, so that your body can’t reap the benefits. So stick with almond, coconut, flax, hemp milk, or whatever floats your boat.

Other fab ways to use matcha: in smoothies, chia seed pudding, muffins, or a straight-up cup paired with a square of dark chocolate. Matcha can be used in savory applications, too. Use it in the broth of a soup, sprinkle it over fish, or dust it over popcorn. The possibilities are endless! Let your matcha freak flag fly, and benefit from all that matcha has to offer.

Thank you for letting me stop by on L&L!

XO,

Alexandra

 

 

Why Shop Local

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It may seem as trendy as the Paleo Diet, but buying locally grown and produced foods is more than a passing fad. Explore why spending your dollars within your own city limits creates a win-win for producers and consumers.

To say that Mark Von Dollen wakes at the crack of dawn is no hyperbole; by the time his long limbs make the short trip from mattress to floor, he has already mindfully walked through the myriad steps he will take over the next 72 hours to mix, proof, rise, bake, and sell the crusty sourdough loaves he sells under the Standard Loaf label. And that’s only a small fraction of his work week.

In fact Mark will spend those many hours to bake and sell only 20 or so loaves in any given week. “I love it.” he says matter of factly. “I look forward to baking all week long.”
That refrain rings true for Santa Barbara and Central Coast artisans across the board, many of whom rarely see a profit from their labor and dedication to producing the highest quality foods possible using mostly local ingredients. These individuals are committed to a higher principle of communal sustainability, based on a hypothetic, though not-too-distant, future where the world’s food demand by its 10 billion residents threatens to exceed the available supply.

According to the new comprehensive and cautionary documentary 10 Billion: What’s On Your Plate? by German Director Valentin Thurn, the tenuous economic balance between agricultural supply and demand is poised to implode by the year 2050, without some drastic interventions over the new few decades. Thurn’s conclusion? We can vastly improve our odds of meeting food needs by growing, raising, and producing food within the very communities we call home. Not only that, but 75% of every consumer dollar spent goes directly back into the local economy for improving other infrastructure, including schools, byways, events and more. Some towns around the world are taking this a step further and registering as “Transition Towns,” built on sustainable measures that meet the needs of current citizens without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

While most cities in the US currently define “buying local” as purchasing products grown or produced from within a 200-mile radius, more progressive Transition Towns, like Totnes, England define it as those foods produced from within a 30-mile radius. Regardless of the perimeter size, the intent remains the same: Cut down on the energy consumed to deliver a product long distances while ensuring that it was produced using small plots of land with sustainable and organic growing and cultivating procedures, all while keeping money within the community where it originated. Michelle Chavez and her partner Jason Banks of Chapala Farms in Santa Barbara are prime examples of this intimate model. The couple craft their own jams and marmalades from produce primarily grown on their urban backyard farm in downtown Santa Barbara.

But growers and producers are only one half of the equation; they require distributors to get their goods to market and into the hands of consumers. In some of the smallest towns (and even some more liberal cities), the old-fashioned roadside stand still serves it’s quaint purpose, while many more locales now host weekly or more frequent Farmers Markets that allow those producers who locally-source their ingredients to sell to the public.

Even Farmer’s Markets are not without their drawbacks; dozens of well-qualified artisans vie for only a handful of coveted spots and waitlists can be years long. Counties like Santa Barbara go a step further by requiring that the vendors be certified farms in order to sells at local Farmers Markets. As a result, some towns are harkening back to the days of down-home general stores and cozy co-ops where familiarity, comfort, and hospitality are the name of the game. Shopping at small mom-and-pop shops has a trickle down effect, where money spent is going back to the small-batch artisans while simultaneously going directly to the community in the form of taxes and other local retail-associated expenditures, like advertising and marketing, decor, and professional fees.

The next time you’re deliberating a local food purchase, take a moment to consider the far-reaching implications of your choice – for the grower, for the storefront, for your health, and for the community at large. In an era where the food practices that connected us to our past are rapidly becoming extinct, it is incumbent upon us an individuals to remain connected to our roots and traditions, by tracing the journey our food takes to reach us. It is, in fact, the the very lifebone of our food supply for years to come.