Do you have a “Wheat Belly”?

I’ve been reading a book called Wheat Belly and it is so interesting. It’s all about how the wheat of today is so far removed from the wheat of centuries and even decades ago due to genetic modification (though natural modification played a small role as well) and how it is wreaking havoc on our bodies. People who have gone off wheat express how ailments they’ve had for years suddenly disappear–joint pain, migraines, rashes, even diabetes and acid reflux! Mind you, the author, Dr. William Davis, draws on studies from decades ago in this book, not just fad diet testimonials that we see all the time today.

I’m only a little bit into it so far, but I am really on high alert of wheat now. The next time I go grocery shopping I’m going to really pay attention to what I’m buying and try to be gluten-free. The hard part is it’s not just obvious things like breads, most anything processed even a little bit has wheat in it–look at the ingredients in any box or package in your kitchen and I’m sure there will be flour, whole grain, or straight up wheat in it. The sad thing is that we’ve been trained to think that “whole grains” are the healthiest option for us, when in reality, it’s just the opposite.

I’m no expert and I don’t mean to sound superior or anything in anyway, but even just a few chapters into this book has changed my thinking and I want to make sure others are aware of this. A couple years ago, I started taking notice of what I was putting into my body. I didn’t make any major changes in my diet–just moderation and a focus on more fruits and vegetables. I’ve never strictly limited or even cut out anything before, but I think I might have to make an exception for wheat. The hardest part about this is that at least so far, it seems it’s all or nothing–the people referenced often say that even a little bit of wheat makes them feel very ill once they’ve cut it out.

I highly suggest picking up a copy, or at the very least, reading a bit of it in a preview on Google Books. I’ll keep you posted on my journey with this whole, new thing. It’s very scary for me–I like change, but this is going to be major, I can feel it. But I suppose that’s the way we feel whenever we are stepping into new and unknown territory for the first time. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants and other food companies are starting to make gluten-free options, so that is a big help. We shall see…

Are you gluten- or wheat-free? How do you avoid it? How did you get started? Any feedback, comments, etc. would be awesome. Thanks!!

Namaste.

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LUNGevity Breathe Deep Yogathon Part Two: THE GONG BATH!

Thanks for sticking around for Part Two of my LUNGevity Breathe Deep Yogathon! (If you missed Part One, check it out!)

After lunch, my mom had a previous engagement, so I headed back to the Yogathon myself. I made the mistake of eating an awesome but very filling lunch right before, so I was glad to have about an hour to relax before the current class finished and the next one began. As I waited, I overheard a couple of people mention how excited they were for the gong bath later. My mom (and dad!) have done one before and told me all about it, but it still seemed kind of strange to me.

So I just lay there for an hour? And the vibrations are supposed to “cleanse me?”

I was just very confused with the whole process. But at the same time, I was looking forward to it. A lot. It’s something not many people can say they’ve experienced! And it’s very popular among yogis, so I was definitely ready to try it.

But first, there was one more yoga class: Vinyasa Flow–my favorite! I’ve taken a lot of Vinyasa Flow classes and I have to say that this one was the most different and exciting one I have taken in a while. Most of the classes I take follow the simple procedure of doing a few Sun Salutations and then gradually you start incorporating warriors and lunges and triangles, etc. This was still the same, but it just felt different. It was taught by two women who would switch off between leading the class and walking around to check everyone’s positioning. It was really great to have a teacher who was focused on leading and one who was focused on correcting form–I can imagine how hard it is for teachers to be the leader and the checker at the same time, so this was an awesome advantage for them and everyone else taking the class. They did little variations that gave their class some OOMPH! and edge. For instance, instead of always steeping to the front of the mat to end a sequence, they would have you walk your hands back towards your feet and start at the bottom of the mat. Just that little change was enough to add a spark of change! It was a rigorous but really really fun class to take! A great way to end the day 🙂

And then it was time. The moment we had all been waiting for: THE GONG BATH! A gong bath is a very simple concept to explain, but the experience is much more difficult to express, especially because everyone’s experience can be so different and varied. (This website has a good explication for what it all is specifically.) All you have to do is lay with your head facing the gong with a blanket and pillow and get comfortable. That’s it! You just get comfortable and relax and let the vibrations wash over you.

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Here’s what is so significant about an Earth Gong:

Not all gongs are alike. The Earth Gong…is a large, 38-inch gong harmonically tuned to the vibration of the primordial AUM, the Universal Chord, the source of all vibrations, and to the fundamental vibration of Planet Earth as she revolves around the Sun.” [via]

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[via]

When the gong is hit, the vibrations wash over your body–the “bath” idea–and cleanse you and also help realign you. I know this sounds all very Hippie Dippie, but trust me, it was one of the coolest, weirdest, most interesting and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Before it all began the woman let us now that towards the end, there would be a very loud section of constantly hitting the gong very hard. They started out with some simple taping of the gong and some other maraca-type instrument while a woman sang and chanted in Tibetan. And then I fell asleep–into a really deep sleep. I woke up in a panic to the sound of the gong and thought that that was the loud part (I was wrong); I felt like I had been asleep for hours. I woke up very disoriented and confused–I had to remind myself where I was and once that was settled, I began to worry that I had missed everything, so I had to tell myself that I obviously had not because everyone else was still in the room and the “band” (not sure what to call them, haha!) was still playing. I KNOW!

After I regained my complete consciousness, I realized that I had been having a very vivid dream, but in the panic of everything, I had completely forgotten it. I’m still very upset about that. I’m usually very good at remembering my dreams and I felt like this one had the potential to be very important and possibly a guidance of some kind. I remember one single frame and I’ll try to describe it the best I can:

I call it “one single frame” because it’s literally like looking at a picture in a frame, for me. Imagine that the frame is an orangeish-gold with glitter swirled in it–think lava-like or like a spilled bottle of nail polish. I am with two other women–you can only see us from the waist up. I am near the upper left hand corner with my palms cupped together and open with my arms extended out toward the other two women. They are both dressed in black cloaks. The way she is facing, you can only see the one woman’s back and she is standing near the lower left hand corner. The other woman is on the right and she is placing a strand of white beads into my cupped hands. She looks a bit like “Strega Nona.”

And that’s it. I know it’s weird! I have no idea what it means. I’ve been thinking about it for days and days, but I am oddly OK with not knowing. Hmm. Strange.

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[via]

Anyway, the gong bath continued as I tried to re-relax myself and re-clear my mind. I didn’t really notice anything too drastic during the process until I placed my hands together for a little bit–they tell you to lie with your hands out at your sides, not touching anything. When I released my hands down at my sides again, I felt a big WHOOSH! of energy go out from my hands to my fingers. It was nuts! Then the super loud part came. I can’t explain how loud it was. It was like being on the main floor at a rock concert, but since the frequency was low, there wasn’t that ringing in your ears. It was just a lot of crashing sounds all at once for what was probably only a minute but that felt like 5. After that was done, they went back to the gentle, rhythmic sound that was at the beginning for a little while before bringing it to an end.

 

I stood up and walked around a little bit. I expected to feel light as a feather and renewed, but I didn’t. (Not that that’s a bad thing!) I felt very empty–but not in a bad way! (Yeesh, these descriptions are terrible, I’m sorry!) I’m not sure why, but it took me a while to come up with the word cleansed to describe how I ultimately felt. I was very thirsty afterward, which was odd because I had been drinking water all throughout my yoga classes. The woman who ran the whole thing said to drink plenty of water, as that would help flush out anything you had knocked loose during the gong bath. That’s another great way to think about it–it was like clearing all the cob webs out of your body.

I can’t explain to you how feeling more aligned feels until you experience it yourself. When I walked, I felt more centered and evenly placed, instead of leaning from one side to the other or clomping and plopping my feet down on the ground. I wasn’t weightless, but I definitely was not as bogged down as I was–something you don’t realize you are until you’re not anymore, I think. I felt very new. Like I had hit a restart button on my body.

I could go on and on and on about it. I will definitely be doing a gong bath again. And I think everyone should experience it at least once. You do need to have an open mind with it if you ever do one, though. If you go into it thinking it’s silly, it will absolutely be the silliest thing you’ve ever done–but I suppose most things are like that. I think if you are open to the spirituality of it and are willing to be vulnerable, you will have great success and unbelievable results with a gong bath. Highly recommended.

Above all else, this experience was all a part of LUNGevity‘s desire to bring awareness to lung cancer and help raise funds for research. Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in America. It is also the least funded type of cancer in America. One of the women who runs the organization said that a yogathon was a great way to bring awareness to this disease because yoga relies so much on your breath, which is completely taken away when someone has lung cancer. I can’t imagine not having my breath to guide me through the postures and help me meditate and center myself. It is such a vital thing in all of our lives, yogis or not. This was a wonderful event for a wonderful organization. Visit their website for more information about their mission and how you can help in the future.

Thanks for listening. And on that note (da-dun-CH!), I’m outta here 🙂

Namaste.

Slow Cooker Chili

Happy Meatless Monday, ya’ll! I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to put into words my last yoga class and gong bath experience from this last weekend, so that will be coming in the next day or so. But until then, I made some yummy vegetarian chili for My Meatless Monday!

Is anyone else ready for spring?! Ugh, I wish it would just get here already! The weather around good ol’ Chicago land has been dismal–but nothing out of the ordinary: 40 degree days that turn into 7 degree nights that turn into 16 degree days and a “snow storm” of 2 inches that makes everyone freak out and forget that they live in CHICAGO on and on. Anyway. If you couldn’t guess, I truly dislike the winter, but there are a few things that keep me from going off the deep end:

  1. I can keep food in the car and it won’t go bad.
  2. Holidays.
  3. Hearty soups and chili.

Since the last couple weeks have been so harsh and frigid that I proclaim it “warm” when it reaches 30 degrees outside, I figured a nice, thick chili was in order. And for a double-dose of awesome, I decided to make a crock pot chili dinner that would be ready for me when I got home! 🙂

NOTE: Now, fair warning, my crock pot is a little dinky thing (2 quarts), so you will probably have to make some adjustments if you make it like I do.

Over the years, I have tried a bunch of different chili recipes, but I usually just end up doing whatever I feel like that day. One thing that stays constant is that I LOVE thick, chunky chili and lots of beans! So here is my very own favorite way to do vegetarian chili–for today, at least 😉

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As far as the base goes, some people like going the tomato sauce or paste and water route, but I like doing a mix of crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes. I also throw in a can of black beans (I like to add another can of kidney beans when I make it on the stove top, but like I said, my 2 quart-er can’t handle too many fixins’), red pepper, corn, onion, and garlic. This time around, I added some zucchini for some extra veggie lovin’ and color. I bought the little baby zucchinis from Trader Joe’s because when you cut them, they make for great bite sized pieces… and because they’re just too cute! Unfortunately  I forgot to buy a jalapeno 😦 But oh well, I will survive! Oh, and of course some ground cumin and chili powder.

I woke up about a half hour early today so that I could get this baby going, and it was totally worth it. For the prep, all I had to do was:

  • Shave the corn off the cob with a pairing knife
  • Dice up about 3/4 of my red pepper
  • Mince 2 cloves of garlic
  • Cut 3 baby zucchinis into little dime-like pieces and then then cut them into half-moons–that’s the professional term for it, right? 😉
  • Dice half an onion

After that, it’s pretty much a cake walk. I just dumped all of those veggies into my crock pot, added 3/4 of the can of crushed tomatoes (about 21 of 28 ounces), the can of diced tomatoes, and the can of black beans (be sure to drain all the liquid out well). Then I gave it a couple big stirs, and voila!

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So pretty!! You know you’re on the right track when your food has lots and lots of color in it 🙂 But then I realized I forgot to add the spices! DOH!

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I love me some cumin, so I like to add one whole teaspoon, but sometimes that’s a bit much for people, so I’d suggest starting with a 1/4 teaspoon for this size batch and going from there to your taste. Then I added 1 tablespoon of chili powder–because I love that too 😉 Then I gave it several more good stirs, covered it, and set that baby on loooooow  and let it cook all the while I was at work.

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I lucked out today because The Boy had the day off so I asked him to give it a stir every couple hours just for safe measure. When I got home I was starving and the house smelled sooooo good! I ran over to my beloved chili and gave it a nice stir and a taste…

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PERFECTION! The spices were great, right where I like them and not too overpowering. All the veggies were cooked perfectly! I was a bit worried that it being in the crock pot for so long, the veggies would get mushy, but they were totally fine. The corn was tender and had a nice crunch and the zucchini was at that perfect balance between firm and soft. It was just perfect! Ahh! So happy with it!

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I immediately ladled it into a nice big bowl and added some olives and cheese and gave it a nice stir…

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And voila! This definitely hit the spot. Warming and filling without leaving me feeling like I had a big rock in my tummy. I will definitely be making this again in the slow cooker. On a non-Monday, I’ll try to add ground turkey or something maybe… the possibilities are endless!

I hope you try this, you will not be disappointed! Luckily, I still have about 3 servings left of this wonderful bowl of love, which will be nice because tomorrow we have yet another snow storm on its way through the Midwest 😦 Boo! Stay warm and have a great week!

Namaste.

LUNGevity Breathe Deep Yogathon Part One

Yesterday was the long awaited LUNGevity Breathe Deep Yogathon that I have been so excited about for weeks. After having been very pre-occupied lately, I was feeling very neglectful of my yoga practice and my blog. I was hoping that this would be a kind of “reset button” for me, and it turned out to be exactly that and so much more. This was such an amazing experience and I hope that LUNGevity brings it back next year.

I started my Saturday bright and early and had a bowl of my favorite Breakfast Cookie Dough Cereal–without the toppings this time; yoga on a full stomach = no good.

photo (3)After that, I was off to the Yogathon! I met my mom there and we settled into our places.

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Not my best crow, but it’s the one that was captured on film, so I can live with it 😉 The Yogathon had a live DJ group who picked great music to go with whatever we were doing (amazing, seamless transitions–the teachers even said they couldn’t have planned the music better themselves) and at one point had a live band! Complete with a harmonium and everything!

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I wish I could tell you for sure what other instruments were involved, but I don’t want to be wrong… That’s a true Tibetan gong you see in the center there. It was really a unique experience .. but I’ll get to that later.

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The day started at 8:00 with an Anusara class. This class was a great warm up–easy, classic poses (think forward bends, triangle and side angles) that utilized props. I’m not a huge fan of props unless they help you to achieve a pose you can’t get naturally. We also did a shoulder stand with a chair, which was so bizzarre-feeling for me. It also featured a lot of binding of the legs that I didn’t think was always necessary–but oh well, that’s the nature of the class. It really was a good start to a long day, but I don’t think I’ll be doing Anusara very much in the future.

The next class was at 9:30 and was my favorite of the day, mainly because of the teacher. Adam taught a class that wasn’t exactly defined, but it was a bit of Ashtanaga and Power Vinyasa. He has a really amazing way of explaining exactly how the poses should be executed and what you should be feeling while you’re in them. He also stressed the importance of being active in each pose–he always had you do one action on an inhale and another on the exhales, such as lengthening and then turning out for certain poses. He also was very visual with his word choice and made sure that you never felt discouraged in a pose. He was one of those teachers who was so articulate you didn’t really have to watch him most of the time. It was a really great class and I may just have to make a trip to the studio he teaches at one day!

The next class was at 11:00. It was a Yin yoga class, my anxious mind’s nemesis! I have mixed feelings about the class: On the one hand, it was very well placed in the course of the day–it was nice to slow down and relax after two classes straight of active yoga. This class was also the one that brought in the live Kirtan band. But, as I’ve mentioned before, Yin yoga focuses on holding poses for about 5 minutes each. 5 whole minutes! The teacher did acknowledge that it was OK for your mind to wander, which made me feel less like a big dope during the class 🙂 But I also felt she was too loosey-goosey with the class. She’d say, “Get into this pose. You can lean like this if you want, or like this, or like this in it, do whatever you want, really.” My feeling is that if I’m taking a class from you, I want to know exactly what I should be doing. I also felt like a lot of the suggestions for how you’re “in it” might not be ideal for everyone–I really just wanted her to be decisive and make sure we had correct form, is all.

After that class, I was so relaxed, I wanted to go home and take a nap! My mom and I decided to ditch the fourth class and get some lunch instead. Before we left, though, we each got a chair massage and a Reiki massage. We left feeling renewed and reenergized–but still very hungry! We left our sanctuary in search of some sustenance…

(Stay tuned for Part Two!)

Looking Ahead

I am so proud of my girly girls who made it to State this last weekend! They ended the weekend being ranked 6th, 7th, 12th, and 12th in their respective events! 🙂 So proud of them! Once again, I have neglected My Meatless Monday due to my busy weekend and lack of planning 😦 Sorry, buddies! I promise I will be better from now on.

Anyway, I have a couple fun things ahead in my yoga life. First of all, this weekend my mom and I are participating in the LUNGevity Foundation‘s Breathe Deep Yogathon. My mom is a radiation therapist and is always finding cool cancer foundation benefits like this, but I have to say this is one of the more unique ones I’ve ever heard of. It costs $25 to register in advance and for that, you get an entire day of yoga classes and food and massages! Free massages, you guys! Also, the day ends with a gong bath, which I have never done before but my Hippie Dippie Mother swears by, so that’s going to be exciting to experience. Unbelievably good deal for you as well as supporting a wonderful cause. Win, win, win! If you are in the Chicagoland area, I hope you’ll consider signing up.

My awesome mom also bought me a new Rodney Yee yoga DVD for Valentine’s Day, so I’m excited to try that one in the next few days. Now that I can do crow at the drop of a hat, I have moved on to dolphin and headstand (against a wall–I’m not quite a yoga-beast yet! :)) and this DVD explores that, so I am definitely looking forward to that extra practice.

Finally, I found a pot of gold over at Groupon last week: $59 for one month of unlimited yoga PLUS the studio gives an extra week free for first time visitors! It’s for COREpower Yoga, which conveniently has studios within a few miles of my work AND my house. Such a lucky thing to find! I think I’ll start my five weeks in the middle or end of March so that I can be nice and ready for my yoga trip in May. I am so pumped!

Anyway, I hope you had a great weekend and that you have a great week!

Namaste.

Leading a Full Life

There are times in our life when we are so busy that we can’t, or feel like we can’t, make time for the things we love. We let our personal joys and pleasures fall by the wayside in place of our “obligations.” I often despise when people lament about how stressed they are or how busy they think they are because I fell that too often it is used as a negative outlet.

Oh, I’ve just been soooo busy. I’m soooo stressed, like, you don’t even know. I have no time to do anything I want to. I’m just so stressed.

Whenever anyone complains to me about their never-ending schedule or elevating stress-level, I always think of my good friend Nick, who also coaches the speech team with me. Nick is someone who really lives his life the way everyone should–with love, pride, and joy. I admire him so much for this. Nick is an actor in every sense of the word. He loves the craft with all he has. In addition to coaching the speech team, which he commutes by train for, he is often involved with one or two shows and at least another couple side projects at a time. He also works and still manages to find time to be active and healthy. I and many other people ask him if he ever sleeps.

The wonderful thing about Nick is that in the three years I’ve known him, I’ve never once heard him complain about his packed schedule and I can’t recall a time when the word “stressed” left his lips to describe himself. I am in awe of him for this. I’ve never asked him why he is the way he is because I already know the answer: He loves everything he is doing. Nick is only involved with things that contribute positively to his life and he only devotes his precious time to causes he truly has a passion for.

I often think of Nick when I find that I am looking at a situation in my life has half-empty, rather than half-full. I was about ready to write a sad, self-pitying post about how I have neglected my blog for the past week and a half and how bad I feel for it. Because I love my blog. It gives me an outlet for my writing, which is a huge passion of mine, as well as a way to track my growing love for yoga. And I love the support and kindness that comes from the people who read it.

But lately, my blog and usual practice have taken a back seat to something that is another passion of mine: the kids on the speech team. These past three weeks have been long and time-consuming–they had their Regional, Sectional, and this weekend is the State competition–but I don’t see this as a burden, because I love what I’ve been doing in this time. I’ve been keeping up with my yoga, but it haven’t done it as much as I had. I’ve done 15 minutes every morning and maybe an hour on the weekends.

I once had a yoga teacher who would say during meditation, “If a thought or worry comes to your mind during this time, acknowledge it, and then put it away for later.” She didn’t shun these distractions or make you feel guilty for losing focus, she simply asked that you put it to the side to come back to it. That’s how I feel right now. I have not given up on my blog or my yoga, I just had to put it in the background for a bit while something else required more of my focus. And I am sorry for this. But not so sorry. As long as you are doing what you love to do, who cares how much of it you have? I can honestly say that, though very packed, the past few weeks have been very happy, satisfying ones. And that’s what makes a full life.

Kitchen Sink Soup [recipe]

Whew! After finishing a crazy-busy week and preparing for an even crazier-busier week ahead of me, I realized that I hadn’t planned anything for My Meatless Monday! After I got over the initial panic, I thought to myself, “Why not make a soup?!” and the day was saved! I love soup, especially in the winter. And it has definitely felt like winter over the past few weeks here in the good ol’ Midwest.

I ran to the fridge to scope out my options, but to my dismay, I realized that while I had a ton of vegetables, I didn’t have enough of any one or two types to make a nice, tasty soup 😦 But thanks to my slowly-but-surely-becoming-calm and yoga-tastic mind, I decided to just roll with what I had and hope for the best! And thus, my Kitchen Sink Soup was born!

FAIR WARNING: Because I just kind of improvised this recipe, it’s not going to follow the traditional recipe instructions and flow and preciseness and whatnot. Just use whatever you have and do whatever you want to do! I should also call this Free Spirit Soup or something! Haha!

Kitchen Sink Soup

  1. Look in your refrigerator.
  2. Notice you have a little bit of a lot of stuff.
  3. Panic.
  4. Clam down.
  5. Preheat oven to 400°
  6. Spray a pan with non-stick spray.
  7. Lay out veggies. (I used: 1 bag of baby carrots, 1 red pepper, 1/2 tomato, 1 bag of broccoli florets)
  8. Brush with olive oil.
  9. Season with salt and pepper.

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10.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until carrots are soft

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I also just happened to have some ginger on hand, and I’ve seen a lot of recipes for carrot-ginger soup, so I minced some of that up, too! (Make sure you shave the skin off with a knife or with a peeler.)

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When my veggies were all glorious and ready, I plopped them into my wonderful food processor and let them whirl away until they were nice and blended. I added 3 teaspoons of ginger for the volume of soup I ended up making (about 6 cups) and I think it was a pretty tasty amount–not too overpowering, but definitely there.

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I added 4 cups of vegetable stock to a large pot and heated it up. Then I added my veggie-mixture…

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and let them meld away! (I like to let it all come to a boil, then turn it down to low and cover for about 20 minutes.)

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And voila! Kitchen Sink Soup!

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I was very pleasantly surprised with this. I wasn’t sure how a mostly carrot and broccoli soup would taste, but I gotta say, it’s pretty great. I think the star here is the ginger–very refreshing and bright. I don’t cook with ginger too often, so this was a welcome change of pace! When I sat down to enjoy a bowl, I gave it a shake of red pepper flakes to spice it up a bit. Delish! Usually, soup recipes say to strain out the soup to get rid of the bitty chunks, but I actually like the texture this has, so I left it as-is.

The moral of the story? It’s hard to mess up a meal if you use ingredients you really enjoy. (If it weren’t Meatless Monday, I definitely would’ve added some shredded chicken in to the mix. Next time!) While I won’t exactly plan on making a Kitchen Sink Soup again, it’s good to know that it can be done when you’re in a pinch and don’t feel like making a trip to the store. I foresee another adventure like this in my future, and that’s perfectly OK with me!

Namaste.