Friday, June 15, 2012

A meal so good I brought back Foodie Friday

 As you may know, Foodie Friday has been on hiatus for quite a while, but today's lunch was so awesome, I had to bring it back if only to share the photo.

Feast your eyes on this lunch from Chef Michael Mastrantuono of Milestone Restaurant in Glenmont. Lobster mac and cheese with a delicious house salad. See that dark piece of what looks like browned pasta in my little crock of heaven? Not pasta. That's an entire piece of claw meat. The chunks of lobster in this totally decadent and delicious meal were so big I needed to cut them multiple times. This was absolutely the real deal -- half a lobster worth of meat, I was told. And the cheese sauce? To die for.

Dennis opted for another lunch special, the fish and chips, which was tempura-battered cod served over hand-cut fries. He said it was the best fish fry he'd ever had. You can catch a glimpse of it in the photo on the right.  Yummy looking, no?

I can't show you a photo of Noah's Milestone Burger because he was so anxious to dig right in, there was no time to snap a picture. But he declared it the best burger ever, with its ancho chili sauce on the side, a homemade pickle and a big batch of those awesome hand-cut fries. (I may have tried a few despite being stuffed to the gills with lobster and cheese sauce.)

Capital Region friends, get to Milestone. The food is really unbelievable, and the fact that owner Chef Mike is only 21 years old gives it a great back story to go along with the great food. We were there for our anniversary dinner in April, when we were first wowed by Chef Mike's talent. I had a fabulous entree of seared scallops atop little risotto cakes. Dennis had the osso bucco, and we split an order of calamari. Everything was cooked to perfection, and on Sundays you get any bottle of wine half-price. What a deal.

Now, maybe you've driven by this place and think: Really? Am I going to dine in a restaurant with a truck yard behind it, an Econo-Lodge in a state of expansion next door, and a highway out front? Yes. You should go there and ignore that stuff. Get inside, where the stone work is beautiful, and the bar area is intimate and lovely and includes the piano that Liberace once played on a visit to the place when it was Stone Ends. Milestone pays homage to its earliest incarnation by keeping the sign, original menu, and celebrity photos hanging on the stairs in the bar area. Be sure to check it out. Lots of famous faces from the past.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Where the 'Amen' meets the 'Om'

As I put the finishing touches on my application for a 200-hour certified yoga teacher training program that begins in September, I thought it would be appropriate to re-run this essay, which originally appeared at the Catholic portal of It's also fitting because my next book, Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality will include a chapter on bringing the body into prayer.

By Mary DeTurris Poust

When I took my first yoga class more than twenty years ago, I was in a bit of a crisis in terms of the Catholic faith of my birth. My mother had recently died and I had moved out of my family home and across the country. I was searching in so many ways and came upon yoga through a friend who knew a teacher who held classes in her home. There, on a mat in an empty living room, I learned how to stretch and settle my body in new ways, ways that allowed me to more easily enter a spiritual realm that has always beckoned to me.

So began my odyssey into an Eastern world that some would have us believe is not only incompatible with Roman Catholic faith but dangerous to it. Of all the posts I put on Facebook, anything having to do with yoga is sure to stir up ominous warnings. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that it is the work of the devil. And yes, I have read what the Vatican has warned about "New Age" religions (FYI: Yoga isn't even remotely new). Quite frankly, someone who is inclined to make an idol of yoga, turning it into an obstacle rather than a pathway to God, is probably just as likely to turn certain devotions within the church into idols or superstitions—from obsessing over the trappings of the faith, to burying a statue to sell a house, to leaving slips of papers in pews as a guarantee that a prayer will be answered. Idolatry comes in all forms; it doesn't take yoga to make that happen.

Permit me, then, to take you into my world of yoga, a world where Amen and Om happily coexist. During my early days of yoga, I threw myself into the practice. I even managed a yoga center for a while and began training to become a teacher, something I regretfully never completed.

I read the BhagavadGita and Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras.

I chanted.

And yet, when it came time to meditate on a mantra, I didn't want anything Sanskrit. I wanted Christian scripture, because that is my core. As I sat in half-lotus position with many other yogis-in-training, I breathed in and out to the words: "Be still, and know that I am God," or, "I am with you always." At a time of personal confusion and chaos, yoga gave me a peaceful place to reconnect with God, a way to listen to what He had to say above the din of my life, and an open door that led back to the richness of my own Catholic faith.

Over the years, my practice has waxed and waned, but inside me beats the heart of a Catholic yogi. When I recently returned to yoga class at my local YMCA, I was not on my sticky mat five minutes before I could feel myself smiling, my shoulders relaxing, and my heart singing. Different types of prayer methods work for different people and, for me, one thing is clear: Yoga is my entry into prayer, even in a sweaty, crowded YMCA studio.

Most people in this country don't do yoga as a spiritual practice. They do it because it helps their backs, or makes them more flexible. But I always hope for the daring YMCA teacher who inserts spiritual elements into a class. I don't do yoga to lose weight or get stronger, although those are surely side benefits. I do yoga to find that still, silent space at my center, where God can enter in.

Think of your own prayer life for a moment. Does kneeling help you enter more deeply into prayer? Does lying prostrate before an altar convey a sense of total surrender before God? In much the same way, yoga uses physical positions to help us reach spiritual heights, whatever our faith tradition.

As I stood on my mat last Sunday, listening to my teacher walk us through some difficult poses, he reminded us that we need to look at ourselves with compassion when we can't get something right, and he urged us to let that gentleness emanate outward when we left class. Yoga is about compassion.

My Monday night teacher, who belongs to my parish, starts each class by asking us to bow our heads and think about the "intention" we have for our practice. How beautiful and perfectly complementary to the intercessory prayer we practice as Christians. She always ends the class by saying: "Shanti (peace), shanti, shanti. Peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace on our planet." Yoga is about peace.

Finally, every yoga class ends the same way, with hands held in prayer position over the heart as we bow slightly to each other and say, "Namaste," which means, "the divinity (or light) in me bows to the divinity in you," not so dissimilar to the way Benedictine monastics have always bowed to "the Christ in each other" as they process in and out of choir. Having grown up believing that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, this practice echoes my own Catholic beliefs. In fact, I should take that posture and attitude toward more people in my life, not just those on the mat next door. Yoga is about recognizing the presence of God, in ourselves and in the world around us.

I think a lot of fear and confusion stem from the unknown. People don't know what to make of the strange Sanskrit words, the poses with animal names, the chanting. There is a sense that if you do yoga, you must be exploring Hinduism or at the very least looking for something outside Jesus Christ. But nothing could be further from the truth for faithful Christians who use Eastern traditions to strengthen our prayer lives. We are not there to be converted away from our faith but to grow stronger in it through methods that influence our Catholic spiritual lives in powerful ways.

Many traditional Catholic devotions don't work for me. I'm really not that good at saying the Rosary. I struggle with the Liturgy of the Hours, even though I continue to pray it as often as possible. But the physicality of yoga as a way to enter into meditation? That feels as natural to me as breathing. And as I breathe in and out and bring my body to a point of stillness, I can feel myself inching closer to God, pose by pose.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mindfulness minus the monastery

So yesterday my original plan was to head to a Buddhist monastery (Don't worry, I'm not switching teams) for a Day of Mindfulness. I wanted to see how it's done in other traditions and had hoped to experience a Buddhist walking meditation in addition to a dharma lesson and some really good vegetarian food. All for the price of a donation of my choosing. But, due to some nagging neck pain, I thought better of spending three hours round-trip in my car on top of almost two hours of sitting on a cushion on the floor and decided to do my Day of Mindfulness closer to home.

After getting the last of the kids off to school, I headed to the YMCA for my first spin class. Some may not think of this as mindful, but, in my world, any sort of repetitive motion that lets my mind settle into a deep place is the perfect recipe for mindfulness. Once I got past the jitters of knowing what to do and not to do in this class, I sank into that deep place, peddling fast, going up "hills," singing to the music, closing my eyes, and disappearing from the world.

I left refreshed and ready for Phase Two of my homegrown Day of Mindfulness. I loaded up my juicer and made a great big green drink for a late breakfast. This juicer sat in storage in a basement cabinet for 12 years. No exaggeration. I almost gave it away at least five times, maybe more. But every time I'd change my mind at the last minute in hopes that some day I would return to this healthy habit. Lo and behold, I came across a super cool book about healthy eating, drinking, and living -- Crazy, Sexy Diet by Karen Carr -- and my juicing mojo kicked in. The recipe changes from day to day, depending on what's in my fridge, but here's a general idea in case you want to give it a try:

3 or 4 stalks of celery
1 cucumber
1 granny smith apple
a handful of spinach
a few leaves of romaine lettuce
1 carrot
a few strawberries or a few cubes of watermelon (or both) depending on how sweet you want to make it

That makes one really big glass of green juice. It's surprisingly delicious and filling. Give a whirl if you have the time, equipment, and willingness to wash and peel and scrub lots of veggies. (If everything is organic, you don't have to peel.)

After my green drink, I did some professional housekeeping that probably shouldn't have been part of a Day of Mindfulness, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Still, I didn't obsess or panic or get too caught up in the email or even Facebook (that's a hard habit to break).

For a brief moment I considered that this might be the end of my Day of Mindfulness, but then I dragged our speaker out to the sunporch, loaded up my iPod with a recording of a yoga class by the teacher I had at Kripalu back in December, lit some incense, and proceeded to do an almost 90-minute series of centering, breathing, asanas, relaxation, and meditation. It was too awesome for words. I could hear the birds chirping, a lawn mower in the distance, leaves rustling. And when I was down on my mat, all I could see outside were trees and sky, allowing me to forget for a moment that the woods around us is gone.

Yoga was followed by a long shower and a healthy lunch of leftover couscous salad and a whole wheat pita with some lemon probiotic tea to wash it down. Then I moved onto the deck and sat in the sunshine while reading The Fire Starter Sessions. I'm using this fun and helpful book to reignite my creative fire, which was burned out after doing two books back to back. Good food for thought here and lots of helpful exercises and suggestions for all aspects of life.

Finally it was time for the kids to come home, the end of mindfulness, although I did try to at least remain calm, if not always mindful. The day proved to me what I already knew: I don't have to leave home in search of a monastery in order to bring mindfulness to my daily life. In fact, it's even better when it can happen right in the midst of the usual chaos. I still plan to get to the monastery for a "real" Day of Mindfulness with the monks and nuns, but, for now, I'm content with my own brand of meditation in motion.

If you like the idea of bringing mindfulness to the actions of your own sometimes-crazy life, stay tuned for my next book, Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, which will be out in November. I give you ten chapters chock full of very practical ways to bring the divine into the mundane. There's even a section of exercises in the appendix. I can't wait to share it with you. More to come on that front as we get closer to liftoff.

Signing off for now. Have a mindful and peaceful day.