Sunday, November 12, 2017

SNAPPED. PROMOTING YOGA WITH THE SAVASANA PIC

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"The Kicker" (c. 1870)
I hate to be a kicker,
I always long for peace,
But the wheel that squeaks the loudest,
Is the one that gets the grease.

Henry Wheeler Shaw writing as Josh Billings around 1910 ish.

Rumination won out.  I wanted to keep my writing to songs.  Damn it.  Some people have real problems: children to feed and school, debts, exorbitant rents, long commutes, bad health.  Serious stuff.  No time for the noise.  They don’t need another opinion blog about a niche area.  Most of you won’t identify with what I have to say, nor have you ever given it any thought or care.  If you are a yoga teacher, you may not like what I am about to say.

It started out with a photograph (see above).   The reluctant half of my internal monologue against writing anything other than a song settles on the cliché, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.  She tells me to save time and come up with a quick caption for an Instagram post.  Don’t sweat it.  People will put their own spin on the image anyway.  The other half nags me with ‘do-the-right-thing’ thinking.  She says I need to explain the picture.   She knows I will ruffle feathers but believes I need to mark out my values as a yoga teacher.

As a relatively new yoga teacher, putting yourself out there is a necessary part of getting yourself a class and reminding your students where you will be and what you will be teaching.   Many yoga teachers I’ve met, with an established following, don’t need to have a social media account.    When we are starting off, it doesn’t cut the mustard to post infrequently with text only.  We need images.  An effective way to communicate your success as a yoga teacher is in the savasana pic. 

I’m beginning to question the grasping nature of image procurement.  At what cost do we need the images?   Surely if we got the gig and we gave our heart and soul to the teaching (as we do because yoga teaching is a special type of teaching), we have nothing more to prove.  Do we have to excessively remind people that we were there when we said we were there?  Do we have to demonstrate how relaxed our students were by taking our attention off task, pull out our camera and take the savasana pic?  Are we more prone to taking a photograph when the room is packed compared to our 7am class in which just three people arrive?  It seems a consistent marketing practice is winning out over a priority to keep our attention on the final resting pose.

Each one of us carries a powerful tool in our pockets.  If you walk outside your front door you are fair game.   With a photograph we have the power to bully, abuse, lie, unflatter, steal privacy and possibly damage old paintings with flash photography.  Politicians need to make sure they are always smiling.  Public places such as museums demonstrate their right to ban photography.  Photography is banned in life drawing classes.  Pope Francis doesn’t want priests or congregations to take photographs in churches anymore.   School management do not permit students to take photographs of teachers.   Pre-school, primary and second level teachers are warned against putting up photographs of students on social media for child protection reasons.  Whether we take photographs or not usually boils down to the norms of an organisation you are in or your peer group.   As a community of yoga teachers, I propose we need to question the customs and practice of taking photographs in our yoga classes. 

I observe countless examples of the savasana pic on Instagram these days.  I’ll put my hands up in the air here and tell you, that I too made it my absolute business to make sure I got an image of my students in savasana after I taught my first ever class.  I wasn’t thinking.  I just thought this was something you do.  And I did it again at the end of my first ever workshop.  But then it felt wrong.  I woke up.  I decided there were other ways to promote.  I wouldn’t like it if someone photographed me with drool coming down one side of my mouth, even if you couldn’t see it, even if I was unrecognisable. 

You might think I’m being precious but let me give you the context; I had a crisis.  Incorporating yoga into my life provided me first with a sanctuary and second with a solid foundation to newly find myself.  I didn’t need to sup the nectar of melted ice under the Himalaya’s with a punishing guru who made me get up at 4am, starving, to meditate for two hours before an unfulfilling vegan brunch and share woes of broken marriages and childlessness with strangers on a hard wood floor (but India is on the cards and I can’t wait for it).  No, it was under the guidance of an experienced and technophobic teacher in Dun Laoghaire that I found a place where I could let go, sob into my pigeon, wring out my anger, and to be honest, simply find out where my heart was and listen to it for a change.   Yoga gave me an alternative way to work out my shit in a safe environment. 

The studio became my sanctuary.  My teacher, unbeknownst to herself - became my guide.  I adored her steadiness, her focus and ability to infuse a sense of humour into the class.  I loved how she didn’t try to come across as a perfect person, but stayed perfect to me because she was focused on her job. She kept her students in tune with their breath.  She gently encouraged them out of their comfort zones.  Her praise and patience was like that of a mother teaching her child how to walk.   My biggest revelation during this time was learning how to relax.  Had she taken her phone out to photograph the class, the spell would have been broken.  My opinion of her would have plummeted.  If she were to have snapped us (no pun intended), I would have realised that she was not respecting us.  She would have been stealing something from me.  And that is not yoga.  Further to that, had she put up my image without my consent on social media, I would have had to express my profound disappointment.

“Pointy stone meets chisel”.  Korean proverb.


“Hey guys.  Welcome to this supersonic yoga workshop.  Do you mind if we take a few photographs at the end of class?  No?”  Looks around.  “Okay, well we’ll begin in child's pose….”. At the risk of being a fun sponge, I am guessing some students out there are afraid to say no when asked.  As a general rule, if a few people say, ‘Hey, yeah, no problem, sure thing’, it is difficult for one person who feels uncomfortable to go against the grain, to have everyone turn their heads around, looking at them in amusement and surprise.  Nobody wants to be a source of amusement at the beginning of a yoga class, especially if they have been brought to that space to sort out a problem in a quiet and reflective environment. I’m also guessing many teachers don’t even bother to ask their students.  If you take a photograph in a museum and are asked to leave, you have broken the rules.  No hard feelings.  Are you genuinely offering a choice or are you manipulating the circumstance so it is difficult for them to stand out from the crowd and say no?  How much time do you give them to reconsider?  What’s the follow up if they don’t sign your waiver?  Would you refuse them onto your program? 

To those who think I’m taking this too seriously, let’s summarise the type of things we say to ourselves when we see these savasana pics;

I can’t identify one person in that shot.
Their faces are all blurred. 
They’re covered in blankets. 
They all look the same. 
Shoulders heavy.
Bodies on the floor.   
Nice studio.
So relaxed. 
Wow! Packed out class!
All men.
Mostly women.
A young crowd.
An old crowd.
Pack of weirdos.
Overweight.
Too skinny.
Splayed open.
The letting go.
The effort.
They look like dead bodies on the floor.
Tired people.
Sweaty people.
Fragile people.
Aging people.
A low camera angle.
Creases under the arms.
Feet hip distance apart.
A mound of Venus.
Lululemon leggings.
Nostril hair.
Rough looking feet.
I hope the teacher remembered to turn off the shutter sound.

In an overcrowded web, some are more skilled then others in the art of seeking attention for our product/service.  For mental health reasons alone, we learn how a laptop lid is a precarious door for some to open.  Murky waters include compulsively checking status updates, increased rates of depression, the sadness of equating likes with self-esteem, envy when we compare our lives to the edited lives of others.  All the while we dodge the bullet of being mentally hijacked by our search history. 

We are in paralysis but we are beginning to question the sense of it all.  As yoga teachers we frequently promote the benefits of fresh air and a restrained use of technology, with all the mental health benefits both have to offer. But I don’t think we’ve thought hard enough about the fragile internal state some students carry with them into the yoga class.  While there can be innocence behind yoga teachers taking photographs of their students in class and in savasana, I think the time has come for us to discuss the presence of our phones in class at all, for reasons other then our playlists.  It’s not black or white.  It’s not right or wrong.  It’s simply questionable – at least that is where my reflection has led me.   

Monday, September 28, 2015

Refashioning: Is It Worth It?


This blog is helping me to make sense of why I sometimes follow through on an idea that won't work:
the sheer curiosity of writing a song/making a dress/a human experiment that in all probability and reason won't work out at all:  the allure of the unusual; and the possibility of finding a rare pearl.

Returning to the blog's recyling spirit, I'm going to discuss why I made a top with a slash down the middle when I knew deep down that I wouldn't wear it.  Ever.

It started with a challenge.  I asked my tutor at the Grafton Academy of Fashion Design to randomly pick out a design that I could practice pattern drafting from scratch with.  Not being content leaving it at a pattern, I decided to make it up as well.


Being just an experiment, I decided to cut up an old dress.  I knew I wouldn't have enough fabric for the skirt section but that was okay because the main challenge was in the bodice.  This is the old dress I cut up.


When you are working with an old fabric, often you must negotiate around stains, small snags and tears.  You must be flexible in your design goals in case some of the fabric is unworkable or you must patch sections of fabric together.  You might have to allow more time then working from a 'fresh' piece of cloth.  You will feel virtuous but time poor.  You will learn a lot.

This is the final item:  a t-shirt with a slash down the middle of the bodice.  The seams had to be all reinforced with bias tape and there was much hand stitching that is not visible from the out side.  This added in hours of extra work.  It took me a total of 3 hours drafting, 10 hours machine sewing and 3 hours hand finishing.  16 hours labour!



In fact, I got a slip and a top out of the dress.  Learning and experience 10/10.  Quality of finished item 7 1/2 /10.  Wearability (unless on a beach) 3/10.




Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Scotch Eggs Video

 

 

You're A Good Cook But You Can't Boil An Egg


I'm going to share a video I made while I was working in a previous school.  I organized the TY students to have an unseen recipe cooking competition, with the teachers.  Despite my best efforts to print out the recipe, talk them through it, provide a video I made especially and have them working in teams,  the teachers lost the competition because of two following things:  (a)  they didn't read the recipe and (b) none of them could actually boil an egg.  Since some of them were quite proficient cooks in other areas, everybody was surprised.   The students on the other hand, had a more zen outlook.  They knew they knew nothing and therefore excelled.

A Video On How To Make Scotch Eggs





While the video meets the wordless and soundless food video brief, it is very difficult to cook and photograph at the same time!

 

Scotch Eggs


If you would like a variation, try substituting some chopped chorizo or black pudding for the sausage meat.  For vegetarians, try using a falafel mixture instead of sausage meat.  Play around with different herbs and flavoring ingredients.  These would be fun to make with kids but under no circumstances let them near a deep fat fryer! 

Ingredients (makes 5)


6 eggs
380g sausage meat
120g breadcrumbs
A minimum of 1 pint vegetable oil
Zest of a lemon
1 tablespoon each of fresh parsley and thyme
1 teaspoon French mustard
2 scallions, finely chopped. 
1 cup of plain flour
Salt and pepper

Method


1.  Immerse 5 of the eggs into cold water with 1 tablespoon vinegar to prevent cracking.  When the eggs come to the boil, leave to simmer for 7 minutes.  
2.  Cool cooked hard boiled eggs under cold water and carefully remove the shells.  
3.  In 3 separate bowls, place a cup of flour, a beaten egg and the breadcrumbs.
4.  In another large bowl, place the sausage meat, the lemon zest, the herbs, chopped scallions and season with salt and pepper.   Wearing plastic gloves, combine the mixture with your hands.
5.  Place the oil into the deep fat fryer and heat to 170 degrees celsius.  Do not over fill the fryer.  Remember you will need to rotate the scotch eggs if they are not fully immersed in oil.
6.  Divide the sausage mixture into 5 rounds.  Place a piece onto a board covered with another piece of cling film.  Place a second piece of cling film on top of the meat.  Flatten gently with the palm of your hand.  
7.  Remove the top layer of cling film and place a boiled egg without the shell on top of the meat.
8.  Cut the meat around the egg using the bottom layer of cling film to scoop the mixture up.  Close the meat around the egg remembering to keep the oval shape of the egg. 
9.  Dust your hands lightly with flour and prepare to work fast in the coating stage.
10.  Dip the meat coated egg into the flour, followed by the beaten egg and lastly followed by the breadcrumbs.  
11.  Place the eggs into the deep fat fryer and fry until golden brown.  Take safety precautions not to burn your hands as you remove each egg.
12.  Place the cooked eggs carefully on kitchen paper to mop up excessive oil.  
13.  Enjoy hot or cold.  




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Positively Chocolate Orange and Ginger GF Cake




At the Electric Picnic, I saw David and Stephen Flynn (from The Happy Pear in Greystones with book of same name) in The Theatre Of Food. It was crammed with punters to rival any of the music venues going on at the same time. 

I absolutely adore the Happy Pear cookbook.  I love the brother's positivity and how they have embraced and road tested all types of vegetarianism, diving fully into the movement, evaluating it and coming up with their own philosophy.  But what is needed now are more voiceless and soundless video 'vlogs'.  You will find a few on my Under Fresher You Tube Channel. This one is gluten free and goes a long way in a crowd.  So to start, here is your shopping list, watch the video and away you go (or not).   


Ingredients for Chocolate Orange and Ginger Cake

2 medium/large oranges
5 eggs
180g ground almonds
200g granulated sugar
80g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder (note in video it says two. This is wrong!)
½ teaspoon bread soda
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon grated ginger

Special equipment

Parchment paper
Blender or food processor. 



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Triple Chocolate Red Velvet Raspberry Mousse Layer Cake




Serves:  An army 

I won’t lie.  I ‘improvised’ this recipe from this recipe to suit metric measurements and ingredients available in Ireland.  In other words, I glanced over it and did my own thing to suit the containers I bought my ingredients in.  Mainly cream.  There are three ½ litre cartons of cream in this recipe.  I also changed the brownie layer recipe completely because I didn’t trust the science or logic behind her quantities or method.  I also made it into a ‘mock’ red velvet layer.   In truth, you can use just about whatever cake you want for the base, as long as it is not too crumbly. 

For your sanity, I have compiled all of the ingredients into one list instead of all the different layers.  Think of it as four cakes and a topping.  There is one cake layer at the bottom and three layers of mousse on the top.  This means you will have to start making it the day before or very early in the morning. 

In fact, I made this gluten free cake for a significant birthday of a very good friend last Friday night.  It was therefore delivered in secret to the restaurant (Seapoint in Monkstown). Chef kindly let us store the cake in the massive walk-in fridge.  I caught him gazing in confusion at my thick and monstrous looking ganache from the corner of his eye, wondering if intentional or not.  I confessed my error and after enquiring about my quantities (correctly 1:1 choc:cream) he shared a tip to which I am grateful: add in a spoon of glucose into the ganache and it will keep its gloss.   Others say butter will also do the trick.  I’ll just have to make it again.

You can substitute ordinary self raising white flour if you don't need it to be gluten free.  

Equipment
1 length of thick acetate
1 25cm diameter spring form tin
Greaseproof paper
Free standing electric mixer (seriously, there is too much beating in this recipe and you don't want to be all day doing this).  

Ingredients
120g Doves farm gluten free self-raising flour blend
65g unsweetened cocoa powder
3 sachets of powdered gelatine (I used Dr Oetker’s)
600g white chocolate
600g Dark chocolate 70% cocoa solids
150g butter
250g sugar
3 eggs
3 pints of cream or 3 x 500mls carton of cream plus one 150ml carton. 
4 x 125g punnets raspberries
1 pod of fresh vanilla
Red food colouring
Salt
Baking powder


Method

For the Mock Red Velvet layer


1.              Preparation:  Line the tin with parchment paper by taking the circular disc out of the tin and drawing a circle on the ‘rough’ side of the greaseproof paper with a pencil.  Cut out this circle.  Cut a long length that just goes up the side of the tin.  Grease the tin and put the two pieces of greaseproof paper in place.  Preheat oven to 170°C.   Adjust your oven shelves. 
2.              Sieve together the following:  120g self raising flour, 65g unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp baking powder. 
3.              Melt 150g butter over a basin of hot water or in the microwave.  Do not let it burn, bubble or boil. 
4.              Using an electric mixer, beat 3 eggs and 250g sugar together until thick and creamy.  When you can make a figure of eight with the beaters, you are then ready to add the melted butter in at the side of the bowl.  Continue to beat after every addition. 
5.              Using a spatula, add a fifth of the dry mixture with a tablespoon of red food colouring.  Add another fifth and another tablespoon of red.  Carefully add the rest of the mixture to the sponge and don’t knock out all of the air.   Make it very red. 
6.              Pour the mixture into the tin, cleaning the bowl out with the spatula to avoid waste and to provide for uninvited guests. 
7.              Bake for 30 minutes until you can smell cake and the mixture is firm to the touch. 
8.              Remove the cake using an oven glove.  Leave in tin for three minutes and then cool on a wire rack.  Be careful not to put a really hot cake on a wire rack or it will stick to the grids. 
9.              Clean out the tin while the cake is cooling down.  Line the tin with the acetate length so it comes up 16 cm from the base.  The acetate should be as long as the circumference of the tin.  You may tape a few pieces together if necessary but they must overlap.  Tape in place so it holds.  Place the red velvet sponge into the tin and prepare the first mousse layer. 

For the Chocolate Mousse


Step 1.                        Place 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small dish and sprinkle on the sachet of powdered gelatine.  Gelatine must be added to the water and not the other way around.  Leave the gelatine and water mixture to one side.

Step 2             Place 200g of dark chocolate in a microwave proof bowl.  Estimate a similar volume of cream from your 500ml carton and add to the chocolate (about 150mls).  Melt this chocolate and cream gently.  It’s a good idea to remove the chocolate before fully melted because it will fully melt in the residual heat.

Step 3             Beat the remaining 350mls of cream until soft peaks form.  Leave to one side.

Step 4             When the chocolate mixture has cooled slightly, heat the bowl of gelatine in the microwave for a few seconds.  DO NOT BOIL or the thickening qualities of the gelatine will be destroyed. 

Step 5             Add the liquid and no longer grainy gelatine mixture to the chocolate mixture and combine well with a spatula. 

Step 6             Fold in the beaten cream into the chocolate and gelatine mixture.  Spoon over the red velvet layer and leave to set.



For the Raspberry Mousse


1.              Blitz one punnet of the raspberries with a hand blender.
2.              If desired, strain through a sieve so you are left with a puree.  Personally the seeds do not bother me. A lot of the raspberries will get stuck to the sieve and this is wasteful.   I think they add texture and flavour.  Do as you wish here. 
3.              Follow steps 1-5 for the chocolate mousse above but using 200g of white chocolate instead. 
4.              Fold in the raspberry puree and another punnet of whole raspberries to the white chocolate mixture and then fold in the cream as for step 6 above.  Add a few drops of food colouring if you want for extra pink. 
5.              Spoon the white chocolate and raspberry mousse over the dark chocolate layer and leave to set. 

For the White Chocolate Mousse


1.              Follow steps 1-6 for the chocolate mousse but use 200g white chocolate instead of dark. 
2.              Cut a length of a vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the chocolate mixture after step 5.  Reserve the empty pod to infuse another recipe at another time if you desire. 
3.              Fold in the cream and place on previous raspberry mousse layer.  Leave to set.

For the ganache and to finish.


1.              Break 200g dark chocolate into little pieces.
2.              Heat 200mls cream until very hot but not boiling.
3.              Add the hot cream to the chocolate.  Stir until melted. 
4.              When cooled but still viscous and liquid, pour over the cake. 
5.              Decorate with fresh raspberries, chocolate shavings and perhaps a few sprigs of mint. 


So, that’s it.  It will cut into 40 thin slices and half of everybody will leave it behind because it is still a lot of cake. 


Photographs © John Wiles

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

There Will Be Cake

 I watched the Kings of Pastry and had a daydream about becoming a Meilleur Ouvrier de France.   Serendipitously, my friend John Wiles suggested he’d take a pro shot of a cake for me.  That is why I decided to write a food post. 

© John Wiles

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Connemara house renovation- part 1


This week, we were renovating a one hundred year old house in Connemara at the foot of the Maam Turks with stunning views of the Twelve Bens.  It’s been uninhabited for 15 years so there is quite a lot of rot, woodworm and debris.  We planned on doing one room at a time but it took one day to remove rubbish, rot and efflorescence that had built up in the kitchen alone.  This included a medium sized bird skeleton that could be mistaken for a baby dinosaur.  Sheep roam around the house and we plan on fencing it off.  There is a small lake decorated with lily pads, and surrounded by rushes, only five metres from the back door.  There is a bigger lake over the hill nearer to the mountain for swimming and boating near Honey Fitz’s house.  Dishes were washed in boiled lake water on a portable stove this week and china dried on the rocks. Much time has been spent removing the old grape vine and honeysuckle that had taken over the conservatory.  They attract millions of insects and I got bitten alive on the face and hands.  The kitchen was purpose built for a very tall man. While Peter will be happy with the ergonomics, I will spend much time stepping up and down an Ikea footstool until we have the funds to replace it. The antique furniture that was there will need to be treated or destroyed due to woodworm. This will significantly delay my plans to set up my piano there.  It is the perfect place to write and record.   As far as the décor goes, the main living area and bedrooms will have the original stonework exposed and whitewashed.  In contrast to this, I decided to take an experimental approach to painting the kitchen, painting the units all different primary colours, including the doors, while keeping the walls white.  The curtains are all torn and moth eaten and need to be replaced (I have a bail of fabric from the 1970’s that will do the job fine).  Much time was also spent trying to fix the burnt out water pump.  After much trial and error, we finally had a smooth flow of brown lake water coming out of the kitchen tap.  I really dislike using plastic bottled water (be honest now, are the bottles really recycled?) and have yet to look into other drinking water options.  After all that grueling labour, we chickened out of pitching our tent, and found a B & B at the last minute.  When we returned the next morning, two French world travellers called Elise and Ewen, had pitched their tent up in the front garden.  They didn’t feel the need to lock their very expensive recumbent bikes.  They’d saved up, sold all their furniture and given up their jobs, to cycle around the world for four years.  We got to practice our French.  My Irish was also tested by one of the locals.  I need to work on it.  We’re back in Limerick now, packing boxes and resting up for another week of renovating on Monday.