A Nice Place to Visit

I once saw a Twilight Zone episode called, ”A Nice Place to Visit,” about a gangster named Rocky Valentine who dies in a shootout with the police and wakes up in the next world. In this world, Rocky’s every whim is instantly satisfied. He plays pool and all the balls immediately get sunk. He visits a casino and wins every bet as beautiful girls flock around him. He wonders what good deeds he could have possibly done to gain entrance into heaven. As the show progresses and everything he does continues to come immediately and easily, he realizes he’s in hell. I haven’t seen it for decades but I often think about it, especially when I’m struggling to learn something..

Which brings me to―as the Ginge calls it―the “evil Chaturanga.” It’s a pose 99.9% of us struggle with. I’ve been refining it for years and have recently come upon a technique taught by Jessica Stickler in an online workshop that’s been working for me and that I’ve also been teaching my students. My goal is to hold Chaturanga for three full breaths with a smile on my face.

It’s freaking hard.

But you know what I like best about Chaturanga? The refining part. The sheer joy of practicing something, and what I learn about my body and my mind as I continue to struggle with it.

Immediate gratification is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Just ask Rocky Valentine.

Tomato Conserva

This Fine Cooking recipe is the perfect solution for a bumper crop of tomatoes. It takes time, but most of it is hands off. Great in all kinds of recipes (below is my current favorite) and can be frozen.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 lb. ripe, meaty tomatoes, such as beefsteak or plum, cored and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray

PREPARATION

  1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment, coat with cooking spray and divide the tomatoes and garlic between two large rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle the oil over the tomatoes and season with 1 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper. Gently toss the tomatoes to evenly coat with the oil and then spread in a single layer.
  3. Put the sheets in the oven and lower the heat to 225°F. Slowly roast, switching the positions of the sheets halfway through, until the tomatoes look like juicy sun-dried tomatoes, wrinkly and slightly browned in spots, 5 to 6 hours. Let the tomatoes cool for at least 10 minutes before serving or using.
  4. The conserva can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.

SPAGHETTI WITH TOMATO CONSERVA, SHRIMP, PROSCIUTTO AND PARMESAN

My adaptation of a Fine Cooking recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • 5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 oz. thinly sliced proscuitto, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups tomato conserva, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups finely grated fresh Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil

PREPARATION

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Reserve about 3 cups of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the proscuitto and shrimp, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the conserva, red pepper flakes, garlic, and 1/2 cup of the pasta water and toss to combine. Add the pasta and cook, tossing, until al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium low and add the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil, half of the Parm, and the parsley & basil. Toss, adding more pasta water, if needed, to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and serve sprinkled with the remaining Parmesan.

Blow it Off

BLOW IT OFF

There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry runs into an old college buddy and asks him out to lunch. His friend turns him down, saying he has an important meeting, but Jerry convinces him to join him, saying “Come on, blow it off. Remember poli sci? How many of those did we go to?” His buddy decides to blow off the meeting (his investment firm’s first meeting with a huge new client), gets fired and winds up becoming the assistant manager at Kenny Rogers Roasters.

I’ve used the phrase, “remember poli sci?” ever since I saw that episode, sometimes to convince a friend to blow off a project and hang out with me instead, other times as an internal nudge to help me find balance between productivity and pleasure, rigidity and spontaneity.

I seek the same balance on the mat: sometimes I do more rigid practices that emphasize precise alignment and ways to improve my teaching; other times I do feel-good practices that get myself out of my head and into my yoga zone. I confess I tend to lean toward the former.

Where do you tend to lean on the rigidity:spontaneity / productivity:pleasure scale? How might your yoga practice inform your efforts to find more balance? Anything you might consider blowing off this month?