I have been tattooed four times in the same place. It is a sensitive place, a place where the skin is too soft, where it would hurt to be pinched, where the pain refers to other places. I realized this time around, as my White Tulip finally evolved into its greatest self, that there was a time when I would not have been able to sit with that kind of discomfort. There is a fine balance between tolerance and passivity, but I have learned that the best policy is to remember that everything is finite. If there is one thing I know, it is this:
Flexibility is important. In my life, the physicality of this has been metaphorical. I have spoken to a number of people about my yoga practice over the years as it has developed, refined itself, blown to shit, and recovered in ways I could not foresee. Some people scoff when I share my amazement at the discovery of new postures: the practice isn’t just about advanced asana, is it?
Of course, it isn’t. But sometimes, I just want to respond to those people who greet my victories on the mat with one word: LISTEN. Everything is different for everybody. When I began practicing Ashtanga, I was lost. I walked into a room full of incredibly advanced yogis at a time when five vinyasas was too many vinyasas for my malnourished, severely Crohn’s Diseased self (*gasp*). A thing you never knew about me: I have been weak, and sometimes it returns.
My physical inflexibility back then was palpable. I could hardly touch my toes as the rest of those people plowed through the Primary Series around me. I did what I could (which felt great), and sat contentedly through what I couldn’t (which was a lot); when I emerged, I felt like my soul was sparkling. My teacher told me I had been bitten by the Ashtanga bug.
Weeks later, I had a dream that Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois was facing me. He hopped off to the side, then turned around and asked, “Are you coming with me?” That was when I googled Ashtanga studios in Minneapolis and chose to give it a shot. When New Year’s rolled around and everyone tried for a week or two to fix the things about themselves they didn’t like, I resolved to teach myself the Primary Series.
Do you know how powerful it has been to find my body can do these things I never dreamed of. It was never about the advanced postures; it was always about the process of arriving there [or not], in spite of everything else. The flexibility I have gained as a result of my practice has helped me to transcend unexpected difficulty with more grace, more hope, more perseverance.
At some point, I started sitting a little more comfortably with the things that hurt, that have hurt, that used to hurt, that no longer hurt. At some point, I started to embrace where I have learned I come from.
To address the bomb I dropped earlier after four years of recipe sharing: when you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a food blog, you usually have help eating most of the things you cook. Crohn’s is why you, dear reader, will never see anything here that has been battered or deep fried. Garlic will always be optional. A lot of the fruits and vegetables are cooked. Nuts are present, but used sparingly (but almonds are okay?). Fiber is mostly absent. A lot of the things I share are the recipes I have developed as a treat on a day when I feel well. Sometimes those days are few and far between.
Sometimes people talk to me about my illness in terms of wishing to cure or improve me; it bounces off. There isn’t a thing to fix. I take care. I have learned more about myself experiencing its chronic presence in my life for the past fourteen years, and I am better for it. Difficulty presents itself so that we can manage. I am always growing. This is every day, and I am at peace with it. You can be, too.
That said, I have a different appreciation for flavor than a lot of people; there have been times when what I have eaten was determined by what didn’t hurt. I remember when I first found deliciousness again. My combinations are flexible because I have become flexible. I am Twistable, Turnable, like the man that Shel Silverstein once described. This means I find interest. I put bacon streusel on pie (recipe to come); I put tahini in chocolate chip cookies; I put garam masala in tacos; I put smoked almonds in crinkle cookies; I put dates on grilled cheese.
This brings me to that time I mixed carrots and Japanese sweet potatoes to make latkes, because the result is outstandingly delicious. It took some practice, but I discovered one day a secret to making fancy latkes like these. All I needed to perfect this recipe, to create the crisply exterior-ed, tenderly interior-ed texture we love about latkes using funny vegetables, was the addition of one egg white. Why can’t the solution to everything be this simple? The result is a fragrant, colorfully orange mixture. Three parts savory, one part sweet, one part warming. This adds to five, and I haven’t a clue what that means, but I will say:
It’s good to take the things that come your way and direct them toward new and interesting places. Input and output, within, without, and roundabout.
Carrot and Japanese Sweet Potato Latkes
Makes about a dozen
2 Japanese sweet potatoes (read about them here), peeled and shredded
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and shredded
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 egg white
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
vegetable oil, for frying
Serve with any mixture of the following: greek yogurt, paprika, harissa, sour cream, applesauce
Wrap the shredded sweet potatoes, potatoes, and carrots in a towel and wring out, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the onion. Stir in black pepper, sea salt, and cayenne. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and egg white, then stir into potato mixture. Stir in flour. In a large skillet, heat a small amount of vegetable oil. For each latke, scoop about 2 tbsp of the sweet potato mixture, then use your hands to make small, flat patties. Place in the skillet, about 1 inch apart from one another. Fry each side until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each side. Serve with desired condiments (my favorite: sour cream and harissa).