Sunday, May 31, 2009

chocolate spinach smoothie

As of May 31st, 2009, this is my favorite smoothie recipe. When I drink one of these, it's like mental and emotional rocket fuel. You won't taste the spinach at all, even if you add two handfuls. the banana, cocoa, and berry flavors are much stronger and mask even the slightest hint of it (at least, according to my taste buds)


1-2 frozen bananas
handful of frozen berries (raspberries and strawberries work best with the chocolate)
a handful or two of fresh spinach
a cup or so of goat milk or kefir and/or water
a couple squirts of agave nectar
a couple tablespoons of cocoa
a tablespoon of coconut oil

Blend this up... and you'll soon feel like punching a hole in the wall. Massive energy. Some of this might be the result of the theobromine in the cocoa, but some is the fructose, some is the potassium and other electrolytes, as well as some of the other good chemicals in here. I make this one for breakfast often and sometimes for dinner too. You'll eat less food and feel amazing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

rice chex, peanut butter, agave and banana smoothie

Liquid energy. I think this might become breakfast for me.

Here it is:

3/4 - 1 cup rice chex
1 medium frozen banana
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons agave nectar
3 tablespoons of peanut butter
1 cup water
4 large ice cubes

Blend it!

I might throw some blueberries or strawberries in with the next one to round this out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meat, Fish, and Poultry

I noticed a consistent theme amongst chefs when baking meat, fish, and poultry. Bake at as low a temperature as possible until the item is almost cooked through. Then, pull the item from the oven. If you want to finish the dish in the oven, crank up the heat, respice the dish, and when the oven is hot enough, finish it in there where it the dish can develop a nice, tasty crust. Same thing goes for searing the finish. Add more spices, then sear the outside of the meat. At this point, the meat should have finished cooking through its middle as well.

A very simple tip which has already paid off for me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Amazing Avocado Smoothie

1 medium ripe avocado
half a dozen or so ice cubes
1 cup of milk (I use vanilla soy)
2-3 tablespoons of agave nectar

Optional ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or imitation)
2 teaspoons sweet cocoa (or use chocolate milk)
A few strawberries

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

About the Drink

This drink is... beautiful. I don't know any other word that sums up the experience of enjoying one of these. It tastes healing, feels life-giving. The creamy fats in the avocado bond and layer over the ice, giving the drink a wonderful bottom. The drink has a weight to it that is both filling and soothing, a thick, expanding coolness as it passes down your throat... The relatively thin soy milk rounds out the middle of the drink and makes the drink light enough to ingest. This masks or blends with most of the avocado flavor... so that the taste is almost recognizable, but not quite. The vanilla and agave are sweet tops for the drink, lending the drink its ether, an angel atop the tree.

Note: I like these without the optional ingredients. However, my son likes them with the strawberries. The strawberries cloak the very mild bitterness in the avocado flavor... which is perhaps is why I like it, the mildest touch of bitterness underneath luxurious creaminess and delicate sweetness of the agave. Like life?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Adding speech to your web page

demo is here:

I was up last night and am preparing for interviews. I find the best way to brush up on technologies is to write something fun... I've been interested in the .NET Speech API, but hadn't played with it. I decided that I wanted a way for the page to dynamic speak with the end user. So, I looked around and coded up this .ashx handler.

The front-end code is simple enough. On your web page, use an Ajax call to dynamically create a Windows Media Player object, recreating the url every time with the querystring sending up what you want to tell the service. In this case, I just have the service send back the audio of the text that is in the querystring. You could, of course, capture the querystring, intelligently parse the request and then, say whatever you want. 

I'm using the 5.1 version of the SAPI. 

The js looks something like this:

{document.getElementById('mediaplayer').innerHTML =
'<object id="Player" type="application/x-ms-wmp"
width="300" height="200">'

'<param name="URL" value="" txt="'">

And here is the code for the web service:

using System;
using System.Collections;
using System.Data;
using System.Linq;
using System.Web;
using System.Web.Services;
using System.Web.Services.Protocols;
using System.Xml.Linq;

using System.Speech.Synthesis;

namespace WebApplication1
    /// Summary description for $codebehindclassname$
    [WebService(Namespace = "")]
    [WebServiceBinding(ConformsTo = WsiProfiles.BasicProfile1_1)]
    public class Sound : IHttpHandler

        public void ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
            System.Threading.Thread t = new System.Threading.Thread(Sound.SpeechThread);
            while (t.IsAlive)

            HttpContext.Current.Response.ContentType = "audio/x-msdownload";

        public static void SpeechThread(object context)
            HttpContext c = (HttpContext)context;
            string sound = c.Request.QueryString["txt"].ToString();

            using (SpeechSynthesizer synth = new SpeechSynthesizer())
                using (System.IO.MemoryStream spMemStream = new System.IO.MemoryStream())
                    synth.SelectVoiceByHints(VoiceGender.Female, VoiceAge.Child);

        public bool IsReusable
                return false;


A demo of this can be seen at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

concentration and spirituality

I remember watching an episode of Penn and Teller's show "Bullshit". They debunked yoga as anything but spiritual, and in an unscientific way, because they did not first define what spiritual is.

The word 'spiritual' conjures images of middle-aged white women in the Arizona desert, wearing scarves and bindis arms raised and chanting--all waiting for some great revelation to bonk them on the head which will solve all of their worldly problems, with money, with men, their children. To many, spirituality is looking up toward heaven, asking for help from more advanced beings, and looking for a way out of this world and the pain which is inherent. Whatever it is, some notions of spirituality ask for something beyond the laws of nature.

Enter yoga. Yoga, in the U.S., is generally practiced as what is known as 'hatha' yoga to Eastern practicioners. There are traditionally, eight different types of yoga, the physical one being hatha, the one I'll talk about here. The other types of yoga are all different types of meditation, but with the same goal in mind--ultimate awareness.

I have nothing against people who practice hatha yoga to get their bodies in shape. They're doing the same practice I am. They're exerting the same amount of concentration and, whether they know it or not, are strengthening their minds as well as their bodies. There's nothing 'spiritual' per se going on, except what you are focused on and the degree to which you are focused.

Yoga means to yoke... or tie the body to the mind. The most important part is, especially for very cerebral people, to get out of their heads and feel what their bodies are telling them, maybe even for the first time. Your body is what guides your intuition and is a billion year old intelligent system. Like a gutter is designed to carry away the rain, you are designed to function in this world. Compared to the inner brain, the frontal cortex, the language center, is in its infancy. So, if you think you're smart and you're having trouble in the world and don't know why, that's why. You're not listening to your body. If you're always daydreaming and tripping over your shoelaces, and it's gotten a bit old, yoga might be able to help you.

Yoga is a ticket back into the body... and for those with the ability to focus and grasp what is going on--far beyond. (According to the yoga masters, higher levels of awareness do require contemplation.) And although yoga is about stretching the body and feeling good, it also about honing your concentration or Dharana-

-If you haven't tried yoga but are relatively limber... try this. Stand tall. Put your right foot on the inside of your left thigh. Lift your chest up. Now lift your left arm to the sky. Point your right arm, palm out, towards the wall on your right. Now shift your gaze to the right. Now hold this pose for two minutes and try to make the movement as perfect as possible.

Now, you probably fell before you reached the end. If you did not, good for you. If you did, here's why. First, your body probably isn't strong enough. Second, and more importantly, you didn't hold your concentration.

Yes, it's just like a Buddhist monk sitting in front of a candle staring at the flame for two hours. It is focus. It is concentration. And when you full concentrate, you might find, like Helen Keller, all of the outward stimuli of the world is engaged in one focus, but you are still inside. You are not the focus. You are not the chirping voice in your head. It's a razor's edge, I think, and I'm only starting to scratch the surface myself. But beyond the flame, is there a land of strangeness? Spirituality? I'm not sure yet.

Concentration is a key to success in life. It's what athlete's call being in the zone. It's the perfect balance of being there intellectually or aware, perfectly in to what you are doing, but not being self-conscious. What are the things that distract us from paying attention? Noises? Smells? Sounds? Yes, all external stimuli. And sometimes the voice inside us, chirping on about doubts, fears, etc. Whatever it is, what distracts us the most is the experience of discomfort or pain.

Yoga teaches you to experience discomfort and pain, to lean into it and experience it fully, and all the while, to maintain your pose and your focus. Some schools of yoga do not emphasize this path, but for me, it a the route of passion and commitment. It is my intent, through my practice, to be a better person, stronger, more compassionate. So, when I move through discomfort and pain, I keep my goal in mind. The process can feel ennobling, particularly when you are a person who feels much fear, like I do. When your muscles tremble, you breathe into them. When you are afraid in the real world, you breathe into it--you train for courage.

This depth of concentration carries over into the real world. Maybe you find you are no longer phased by blaring ambulances or gunshots. Maybe your significant other can no longer push your buttons. Maybe you overhear someone making fun of your yoga mat and you laugh it off (ha, I was seriously annoyed by that when I first started!). Seriously, the concentration, the ability to weather storms, comes with the concentration. It can take a sensitive person from incapable and weak to able and resilient.

Yogi also trains the self to wield the body. Yogis and monks have demonstrated that they can go slow their heartbeats to almost nothing, that they can survive extremes of temperature like sitting in the snow for periods of time not thought humanly possible. They can go without food or water. They are pushing the limits of what was thought possible of the body. Though I am a beginner, I can see how this happens. The yogi's mind becomes very close to his or her body.

So, spirituality doesn't have to be something otherworldly. However, it is an inner, subjective experience, and like psychology, we'll have to rely on someone's word until we find better ways to quantify the journey into inner space. And yoga doesn't have to be a drug for you or a means of escape. It can be a means to learn concentration and focus which empower you in this world. A warning though--yoga might start showing you patterns in nature that you hadn't noticed before, synchronicities which may be explained by math or perhaps by some underlying meaning or desired meaning to everything. That is part of the mystery of life is you choose to ponder it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Relaxing into Discomfort

I've been meditating the past few weeks on the difference between 'pain' and 'discomfort'. For three months, I had been dealing with an out of control boss who was on my back every day, and I was getting stressed out. My body holds stress in the gut, so I started having an ache in my side, which began as a dull throbbing but which became more 'painful' as the stress increased (I overworked and ran my body down in response to his criticism). I eventually used yoga to overcome the pain and the boss (and am now, for better or worse, job and stress free); however, I started thinking, was working through this distress good for my body or bad for it? I had been hospitalized once in the past for inflammation in that same location, when I was going through a divorce. 

I read an interesting article once. It said, the feelings of being tickled and of stabbing pain are the exact same signals traveling to the brain, but at different intensities. So, the slight itch of a mosquito bite is only subtly different to the brain than a being stabbed in the leg. However, the experience of this is very different to us.

In my yoga practice, many teachers insist that you bring yourself to the 'edge', where you feel discomfort but are not experiencing pain. The words intimate different feelings. Whereas discomfort implies dull, persistent aching, the word 'pain' suggests something sharper, more insistent--again, a measure of degrees and our experience of it.

I tend to practice more rigorous, strength-building styles of hatha yoga. The poses are intense, the rooms often hot, where if you are not conditioned, you can easily lose focus and potentially hurt yourself. Still, the teachers push you a place of discomfort because that is the only way to improve your practice. My only distinction between discomfort and pain is that discomfort will not injure my body to the point of losing function--like the dull ache after lifting weights. But 'pain', the stronger signal, indicates that my body is going to be severely injured, and to the point where it will effect my yoga and the rest of my life.

As on the mat, so it is in life. Our culture teaches us that discomfort and pain are bad. There are endless ads on the television and internet for pain remedies of both a physical and psychological nature. Feeling anything negative is associated with sickness, and sickness is not viewed as a natural state of the body. With regard to the physical versus the psychological, I am just as wary of Prozac as Xanax or Codeine. All are supposed to suppress pain of one sort or another and return you to a functional state of normalcy... inevitably, so that you can work.

Well, to me, this seems a tragedy. In the desire to not feel bad, we take drugs, poison our bodies, overwork, then end up with little time for cooking well and socializing, and this American amphetamine lifestyle only makes us feel worse. And then in our exhausted, sickened state, we develop poor psychologies, insecure minds that spend all of this money we've earned on things to try to make us feel better--from plastic surgery to luxury items--when perhaps we are, for the most part, searching for a bit of peace.

Another, very different path is what I'm discovering through yoga. Yoga can be a way of establishing inner peace and self-acceptance, by not training to not run from discomfort and even pain, but by living through these things, accepting both the fleeting aches and the scars that they sometimes give us. In return, yoga offers us a steady center, the ability to weather any storm--a pilot license for our minds and bodies... from this path, pain returns to its rightful path in the natural order, as our teacher.

What took me many years to realize is that when you no longer run from discomfort, it no longer controls you. Great freedom is found when you can endure discomfort, and eventually pain, without reacting, without cringing. You learn to stand upright. You feel more human, raw and exposed but vital and strong.

When you begin to leave the fear of discomfort, you are more able to reach out to others, to be honest with your emotions, to forge meaningful relationships, and to, in general, live the good life. Not all yogis need to retreat to live in caves for their entire lives. When you can make it through your morning without a cup of coffee, but realize that you are just in discomfort and not 'addicted', then you can enjoy your coffee the next day and not make a huge deal about it. When you can enjoy the presence of your lover, but not feel the need to know what they're doing every minute of the day, you can continue to enjoy them for as long as you'd like without getting an ulcer. These things we call addictions, whether to facebook, your blog, or heroin--yoga, or any form of meditation, let's you understand that these are not real, that you have the choice, and that you truly are the pilot of your soul.