Friday, February 25, 2011

Who needs religion?

Last Wednesday's Reflections revolved around the idea of religion: how do we define it, where does it come from, and would the world be better off without it? Many of us like to consider ourselves spiritual but not religious, but what does that mean? Part way through the discussion we watched a quick clip of one person's answer to the question of why religion is often seen as a source of violence and conflict in the world.

Apple chutney

Apple Chutney

Chutney varies immensely according to the kind of apples used, but invariably sour Granny Smiths seem to produce the best results. This chutney is hot yet sweet and can be served as an accompaniment to a great variety of savoury dishes. Allow 1 - 4 spoonfuls per serving. Chutney can be refrigerated in a sealed container.
• YIELD: Enough for 10 persons
• 2 tablespoons (40 ml) ghee or oil
• 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) cumin seeds
• 2 fresh hot green chilies, cut into thin rings
• 2 teaspoons (10 ml) minced fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon (5 ml) turmeric
• 500 g (about 1 pound) tangy green apples, peeled, cored and sliced
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
• 1 1/4 teaspoons (6 ml) ground cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon (3 ml) ground nutmeg
• 1 cup (250 ml) sugar

1. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy 2-litre/quart saucepan over medium heat. Saute the cumin seeds in the hot ghee until golden brown. Add the green chilies and minced ginger and saute for 1 minute; then add the turmeric and the sliced apples. Stirfry for 2 - 3 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to low and add the water, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the apples become soft. Add the sugar and continue to cook the chutney
until it becomes jam-like. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to a week

Monday, February 21, 2011

The restless mind

"The Restless Mind"
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna makes our relationship with our mind very clear when he says "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." It's tough language, born of the battlefield context of the Gita itself, but when we really think about it, it's so true. How often throughout our day do we find our mind providing us with incredible inspiration, only to soon drag us off on some adventure or daydream which takes us way off-course.

We discussed how the practical power of the Gita helps to bring us off the "mental platform", or identifying too closely with our thoughts and mental impressions, which after all are only potential representations of who we actually are. We did a mindful guided meditation in which we attempted to step back and observe the flow of our thoughts, which we rarely ever do. Our realizations that we discussed showed us that the power of our mind and the health of our mind must be nurtured and respected, especially if we want to know our deeper, spiritual self.

Of course, the power of mantra meditation is an excellent tool to make the mind our friend, and we once again talked about this wonderful practice, and invited everyone to join us on Thursday morning for our weekly meditation, to give our mind, body, and soul a powerful boost.

Chana Masala!!!

Chana Masala

Ingredients (serves 4-6 persons)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon asafetida

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced

1 medium sized cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon chana masala

1 teaspoon chat masala/amchoor

1 cup crushed tomatoes/tomato paste

4 cups boiled garbanzo/chick peas

Salt to taste

2/3 cup water

Fresh Cilantro (for garnishing, optional)

1. Heat oil in a large skillet.

2. Add asafetida, bay leaves, ginger, chili & cinnamon and sauté over a medium heat until browned (3-5 minutes).Turn heat to medium-low.

3. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chana masala. Stir for a few seconds.

4. Add the tomato paste/crushed tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes until browned lightly.

5. Add chickpeas and a cup of water and stir.

6. Add the amchoor, salt and lemon juice.

7. Cook covered for 10 minutes.

8. Remove the cover and garnish with cilantro.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You can be that servant.

Near Death Experiences!?!?!

In our first meeting for the Spring Semester (with plenty of fresh snow and ice still on the ground :-)), we returned back to the first essential teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita: that we are more than just this temporary body, and that to go deeper, we must understand that we are the soul within. How do we understand this beyond the theoretical or the seemingly mystical or mythological? The realm of experience is where we can understand spiritual knowledge beyond the doubting and misunderstanding nature of our mind, and we framed our first discussion of the semester around one such extraordinary experience: the near-death experience (NDE).

A lot of us are familiar with this phenomenon, which has come from the outskirts of the paranormal to something that is now being seriously accepted and studied by mainstream science, simply because of the compelling nature of the experience and the millions upon millions of people who have experienced an NDE. Check out this video below that we watched during our discussions, which comes from the Discovery Channel, on one of the most well-documented NDE cases, of Pam Reynolds.

How was Pam able to see, hear, and experience her operation even though her body was clinically dead? Who is that seer? As we explored some potential answers to these questions, we considered that the wisdom of the Gita is clearly trying to tell us that this is our spirit, our soul, our actual self, and that we remain and exist and can perceive beyond our earthly body. The near-death experience is one such practical and serious example of this manifest deeper reality, and its evidence can compel us to understand and contemplate our deeper self and our deeper nature as we go through our daily life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spinach Filos

Spinach Filo Triangles (Spanakopita)

Spinach Filo Triangles feature the salty white Greek sheep's cheese called feta and wafer-thin continental filo pastry (both available at delicatessens and large stores). If you are not partial to the rather strong taste of feta, substitute ricotta cheese or home-made curd cheese (panir) or a combination of both. Include the optional cheddar cheese if you're using a substitute for feta. I have omitted salt from the recipe because feta cheese and spinach are both naturally salty. Add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt if you are not using feta. These crisp, savoury, baked pastries are great for party catering.

PREPARATION TIME: 1 - 1 1/2 hours

BAKING TIME: 15 to 20 minutes

YIELD: About 24 triangles

2 large bunches spinach, washed and coarsely chopped 5 tablespoons (100 ml) butter

1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground black pepper

1 teaspoon (5 ml) yellow asafoetida powder

1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) nutmeg

2 tablespoons (40 ml) plain flour

3/4 cup (185 ml) milk

250 g (9 ounces) chopped feta cheese

(or ricotta or curd cheese plus 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) tasty cheddar cheese, grated)

375 g (13 ounces) filo pastry

2 tablespoons (40 ml) bread crumbs (optional)

1 cup (250 ml) melted butter (for brushing on the pastry layers)

1. Place the spinach in a large, heavy saucepan over moderately high heat with 3 tablespoons (60 ml) of butter, salt, and pepper. Bring the spinach to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook uncovered until the spinach is tender and the liquid has evaporated.

2. Melt another 2 tablespoons (40 ml) butter in a separate pan, add asafoetida, and saute for a few moments. Add the nutmeg and flour and saute for about 1 minute. Add the milk and stir carefully until the sauce boils and thickens. Remove from the heat. Combine the spinach, cheese, and sauce. Place the mixture in a bowl and allow to cool. If the mixture is too moist, add the optional bread crumbs.

3. Cut all the pastry sheets into long, 9 cm (4-inch) wide strips. Using a pastry brush, brush 2 strips with melted butter. Layer one buttered strip on top of another.

4. Place 1 heaped tablespoon of filling on the end of each double pastry strip and fold over to form a triangle, covering the filling. Lifting the triangle up and over to form a second triangle, continue folding until you reach the end of the pastry strip. Adhere the last edge of the pastry with butter.

5. Fill all the triangles in this manner, brush the tops with butter, and bake on unbuttered baking sheets in a preheated oven 180°C/355°F for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Drum Major Instinct

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Subji

6 oz (175 g) tamarind
2 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 green chillies, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1 1/4 cups (275 ml) whey
2/3 cup (100 g) brown sugar
1 pineapple, trimmed and cubed
3 carrots, sliced
2 teaspoon mango powder
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon ground coriander
10 oz (275 g) pressed paneer, cubed –OR- TVP
3 zucchinis, cubed
4 tomatoes, quartered
3 stalks celery, diced
3 teaspoon salt
3 green plantains, sliced

Heat the ghee in a large saucepan and fry the cumin seeds, then the grated ginger and green chillies. Next toss in the ground pepper and the asafoetida and fry for a few seconds more. Then pour the whey into the masala and simmer for a moment. Add the tamarind juice, brown sugar, pineapple chunks, sliced carrots, mango powder, paprika, and ground coriander. Allow to boil and thicken, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Meanwhile, deep-fry the paneer cubes until light brown and set them aside.
Add the zucchini and celery to the masala, cover the pan, and cook until barely tender. Then add the fried paneer cubes, tomatoes, and salt. Stir well. If you are using sliced green plantains, add them at this point. If you are using fried potatoes, add them after the paneer cubes have soaked up some of the sauce and become juicy. Cover the pan, and cook until all the ingredients are tender.