Powersheets: A Bit of a Review

There are so many goal-setting systems out there, and so many would-be self-help gurus happy to help you figure out your priorities and turn them into actionable goals. Some of those gurus and systems are worth your time, some are just retreads of the same old thing. A person who has felt adrift for most of their life might be easily roped in to a lot of these systems, hoping the next one will be “the one” that helps them get their shit together.

And by “a person,” I mean me.

I’d heard a lot about the Cultivate What Matters Powersheets, the pricey but extensive goal-setting system that’s sort of planner-y but can be easily combined with your existing systems and practices. I wasn’t willing to invest in a yearlong book but they had an undated six-month version, and that seemed more reasonable, particularly with a coupon code.

The six-month undated Powersheets is currently available for $28; the yearly version is sold out.

First off I should say, Powersheets are not a mere retread. A lot of the ideas are familiar, but they take an approach that isn’t overly woo-woo but also leaves room for whatever woo you do. (Note: The website offers a lot of Christian-focused additions to the system, but those are not part of the Powersheets unless you add them; the workbook itself is happily adaptable to your life outlook or path.)

The first part of the book is dedicated entirely to exploring what you want out of life, what fears are holding you back, and what’s most important for you to work on right now. It’s an in-depth workbook, and takes a while to go through. That part alone was pretty useful, as it helped me figure out what areas of my life I wanted to devote my attention to this year. It also helps you see areas where you’re actually doing all right and aren’t nearly as messed up as you thought. It’s easy to see your entire life as a shit-show and not recognize that there are parts that are, in fact, going okay.

After you’ve decided on your big goals (you can have up to I think ten), you head into the monthly sections, and break those goals down into monthly action items, weekly action items, and daily habits to help get you where you want to go. Each month you start by reviewing the last month, looking at what went right and what you’re going to cut yourself some slack for. Then you move on into the next month.

I added Tarot card draws and some other flavor of my own to help me get more clarity as I worked through the book.

Obviously a lot of people love this system and use it not just once but every year. The creator and company are clearly making a killing with it, so much so that they’ve got a conference they’re advertising where you spend a couple grand and get to go set goals with the creator herself. There are lots of accessories (stickers! washi! They know who their audience is for sure!) and supplemental materials.

I actually used the entire six month book, which is kind of rare for me. And I do really like the system. I like that it’s encouraging but realistic, and doesn’t try to be a “plan slayer” or “goal digger” or whatever the ladies-who-Instagram term is these days. I also like how it emphasizes breaking everything down, first into one-time things you can do that month (sign up for a writing course, let’s say), then every week (make a date to write with a friend every Thursday), then every day (write 500 words). The format definitely helps you consider things from a fresh perspective.

Was it actually helpful for me? Eh, not really, if I’m honest. Most months I didn’t accomplish 80% of what I had set out. I rarely stuck to my habits. And I don’t feel like I’ve made significant progress on most of my goals.

Color coding like a BOSS. Hahahaha.

However, I’ve also had a shit-tastic year. A move in May threw everything for April and May into absolute chaos. My depression has been sucking the life out of everything since then. June was utterly pointless–I didn’t even use my planner for most of it. My bullet journal trackers for June are totally blank. So I can’t really blame the Powersheets for my not getting much out of them!

Do I recommend Powersheets? If you have sixty dollars to spend and love workbooks, sure (the undated six-month is about half the price of the yearlong). It’s great to say “it’s an investment in your future,” but having that much to invest is a bit trickier for many people than the internet wants us to think. Am I going to buy it again? Not likely. I feel like now I can take what I’ve learned and adapt it to my own life without a new workbook. I doubt that’s the creator’s intention but I already have an expensive planner habit, especially now that I’m back in an Erin Condren Life Planner. (And a bullet journal. Lord, don’t get me started. I’ll talk more about that later.)

Note: This post was not sponsored by Cultivate What Matters; I bought the workbook myself.

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Event Review: Texas VegFest 2012!

March 31 was the very first Texas VegFest here in Austin, held at Fiesta Gardens, which is right on Ladybird Lake.  I, like a lot of veggiesaurs in our fair city, was really surprised we’d never had one before – Austin is loaded with vegetarian and vegan resources.  They were certainly well-represented at the festival!

I headed out with a friend who’s a health coach, into what was outwardly a gorgeous day but was, in fact, blistering-hot because there wasn’t really adequate shade near most of the vendors.  I don’t fault the planners, though – they’ve been working on this thing for two years, and how were they to know we were going to skip right over Spring this year?  90 degrees at the end of March is positively unholy.

There were somewhere near 100 vendors and booths, ranging from local restaurants and bakeries to animal rights organizations to health and wellness services…and of course live music, this being Austin and all. My own favorite Austin Pets Alive! was there, as were Compassion Over Killing and Vegans Rock Austin.

It was really something to behold – especially since there was such a big crowd!  I’m really hoping that the turnout will make it feasible for the planners to hold one every year, although I know what a freaking nightmare that kind of thing is to put on.  I salute the hell out of the planners and volunteers.

Upon entering we received Whole Foods swag bags full of coupons, stickers, various sorts of literature on health, environment, and animals, and even a couple of samples.

There were samples galore to be had in the food booths and plenty of tasty things to buy – the most popular were of course the ice cream makers like Luna & Larry’s, NadaMoo, and our local vegan ice cream parlor Sweet Ritual.  The longest line (aside from the ice cream) was at the Daiya foods booth where they were giving out samples of the latest vegan cheeses. Several of the local veg food trucks were there.  And oh, the smells – especially the various Indian restaurants represented, including one of my favorites, Curry in a Hurry.

But the best part was an opportunity to be a goofy fangirl – Isa Chandra Moskowitz did a cooking demo, with all her wit and kitchen wisdom.  She was both hilarious and practical, and demonstrated recipes for barbecue seitan and sunflower seed mac & “cheese.”  For all that she and her partner in crime, Terry Hope Romero (who also did a cooking demo of tamales later in the day) are basically vegan rockstars, Isa was wonderfully genuine and down to earth.  I may or may not have squeed a number of times, including when she shared the scoop on her forthcoming cookbook.

One of the best things about the fest, which is a personal thing for me, was the body diversity on display. A lot of veg communities are, to be blunt, real jerks to fat people, since veganism has been touted as the new great white hope in weight loss and I guess we make them look bad. There’s also a stereotype that vegans in particular are all white yuppies, which isn’t remotely true.  Today I saw all shapes, sizes, and shades of skin, a true reflection of the wild mix of people who call our groovy city home.  Go Austin!

Really, my only complaint was the heat – I think next year I’ll try to go earlier in the day.  The speakers’ pavilion was air conditioned, so getting there right around opening time and making the rounds then settling in the A/C to listen to the speakers I think would work out better…assuming, of course, that we skip Spring next year too.

One of the major reasons I wanted to go was that I’ve been needing something to rekindle my veg passion; despite all the work I’ve been doing lately on my mental health, my dietary habits have, shall we say, sucked balls.  And balls, as we know, are not vegan.  Now I’m inspired to read some of my books again and thumb through my cookbooks…right after I finish sorting my swag.

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Book Review: Veganist by Kathy Freston

I find myself conflicted over this book. I’ve been a huge fan of Freston’s first, Quantum Wellness, since it came out; I always really liked her “lean into it” approach to wellness, which involves making small changes, educating yourself, and letting your mind, heart, and body come into a gentle congruence that is far more lasting than trying to force radical changes on yourself.

I know her approach is a valid one because it’s worked for me. I know there are some people who can go “cold turkey” on change, but after years of frustrated failure I realized I’m just not one of those people. Freston’s approach was a breath of fresh air for me on the vegan front, since practically every pro-vegan book out there emphasizes “you must do it NOW NOW NOW and to hell with your emotional needs, that’s all touchy feely nonsense anyway!” and my forays into vegan online community only reinforced my sense of not-belonging. Hippies, non-atheists, and anyone not “hardcore enough” were clearly not welcome. Neither are fat people unless they’re in the process of dropping millions of pounds on their new miraculous vegan diet. Apparently fat people are bad PR for veganism as the perfect lifestyle. Right.

So in that regard, I understand why Freston wrote her new book, Veganist, and is trying to create a sort of new-agey alternative to the term “vegan” which she sees as too harsh and limiting, more about deprivation than wellness. I think the word “veganist” is ridiculous, but I can see where she’s coming from. To me it feels like Freston knows where I’m coming from, too – it feels like she must have had similar experiences with vegans and decided that if she wasn’t going to be welcomed in their world, she would just strike out on her own.

Personally I’d rather go with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s term “joyful vegan” than try to totally reinvent the word; don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but emphasize that there is more than one way to be a vegan…because there are many ways, and not all of them are going to attract people. Lord knows most haven’t attracted me.

My problem comes again with the culture of “diet veganism,” and how it’s become the new cash cow…oh, excuse me, the new “hook.” Lure readers in with the promise of guaranteed weight loss, and then fold in some stuff about animal suffering and environmentalism and maybe eventually they’ll read it.

Again…I get it. I understand the “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” idea. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It feels dishonest, and not just because promising effortless weight loss is iffy at best, and cynical at worst.

Sure, you might lose weight by going vegan. But you might not. Statistically speaking it’s 95% unlikely you will succeed in the long term if your only goal is weight loss. I can say from experience that veganism is a wonderful choice for your overall health, as long as you are paying attention to your diet and getting a nice variety of nutrients every day; but placing all your hope on the weight loss power of veganism is dangerous…if you’re expecting some kind of fat-melting miracle and don’t get one, then what? How many people are going to go on a vegan weight-loss diet and realize they haven’t suddenly gotten skinny, then say to hell with it and give up before they’ve managed to get to the chapters about what veganism actually *is* all about?

I mean, sure Atkins is more appealing for dropping pounds! You eat all the bacon you want! Contrast that with veganism, and which do you think will win out? It’s obvious, because weight loss isn’t the main benefit of veganism. You don’t abstain from half the Standard American Diet just to be a size 6; you need more than that to motivate you to make such a profound change. Atkins has no greater meaning; it’s just about creating chemical conditions in your body (dangerous ones) that cause you to drop pounds. End of story. Veganism is so much more than that, because it didn’t start out as a way of “slimming.” It’s not for people who want the same-old-same-old and to be able to do things the same way they always have just using low-fat mayo instead of regular. Veganism changes your life from the inside out.

I find it a disturbing commentary on our society that if you try to tell people veganism is a compassionate, spiritually uplifting, overall healthy way to live for your body, mind, and soul, they roll their eyes at you and crack some lame-ass joke about bacon; but if you start off by touting veganism’s “guaranteed” weight loss, you wind up on Oprah, Martha Stewart, and magazine covers galore.

I’ve heard a lot of vegans bash Kathy Freston for not being a “real vegan” because she is more concerned with 95% integrity than 100% purity. She believes – quite rightly in my opinion – that it’s impossible to be 100% pure vegan right now because of how manufacturing, shipping, and research are conducted, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can. She also believes that it’s more important to make veganism accessible than to pitch an ungodly fit in a restaurant when there’s a half-teaspoon of butter on your bread. I can absolutely see where hardcore vegans would be outraged over that…but still, I have to say I see Freston’s point.

I just don’t see how being black-and-white has ever helped anyone change. You can’t guilt yourself into compassion any more than you can hate yourself healthy. The thing about loving energies like compassion and healing is that they arise from a place of wholeness and positivity, not one of blame and anger; they come from having your eyes opened. True change comes from opening your arms, not turning your back.

Whatever you think of Freston’s approach, what I like about it is that it isn’t judgmental and doesn’t emphasize the shalt-nots; her way of leaning into wellness involves having your horizons broadened to the abundant health and spiritual freedom that becoming a plant-based human offers. “Promising” anything as a result of a dietary change is a mistake, in my opinion, but it’s a bold move either way. I personally would be much happier to see a million people go 80% vegan and stick with it for five years while gradually upping that percentage than 1 million people go “diet vegan” for a year and give up six months in because it’s “too hard” and their only motivation was ass size. The more reasons you have to do something, and the more they resonate to your heart and spirit (not just your ego), the more likely you are to do the homework, make the plans, and take the time to succeed.

But that never happens overnight. It’s a gradual unfolding, not a switch flipped on and off. There are a lot of mini-switches, sure, but it’s very rare that people wake up one morning and say, “Aha! Today I become a ventriloquist!” and nothing gets in the way. Our culture is terrified of losing time, wasting time…spending time. We want everything to happen in 30 days or less, preferably for $19.99 or less, and if you know anything at all about the human soul, you know that isn’t how things happen. Force creates resistance – and resentment. Is your relationship with your body one that needs more resentment? Or force? Do you need to give yourself something else to fight against? Or would you rather give your body the choice to move into a new way of being at a pace that will become a lifelong change rather than a series of false starts?

I know whereof I speak, here. I’ve been trying to go vegan for five years now. Every single time I’ve tried to go cold tofu, and every single time, I’ve failed, because I wasn’t ready, didn’t have all the tools and information I needed, or the support system I needed in place. If I had taken my time and allowed the philosophy to mature, sought out support, and gathered as much knowledge while making a series of smaller changes, I think I would have been much more successful from the beginning. That certainly seems to be the case this time; I’m working slowly, without judgment, learning more about myself than ever before, and it’s working. I feel safe in this kind of change, my puppy mind is waddling her way along with her tail high and ears perked in curiosity, and I’m so glad I read Freston’s first book, or I might never have come this far.

And so, silly word or no silly word, I have to give a thumbs-up to Kathy Freston’s efforts at taking veganism mainstream, and I wish her luck. She’s certainly made a big difference in my life, and I honor her for that.

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Witchy Movie Review: The Craft

“We Are the Weirdos, Mister.”

I remember back in 1996, as a newly-sprung-from-rural-Texas college freshman, wanting desperately to see The Craft.  I barely even knew any Real Life Witches myself but here was a whole movie! About Real! Live! Witches! (sort of) that had used Real Live Witches (sort of) as consultants (sort of).  Bring it on!

There was a huge outcry over the movie when it came out, and understandably so, because apparently the “consultant” the filmmakers hired was largely ignored in favor of what would make a more flashy Hollywood horror flick.  The basic needs for such a movie are: girls fighting, preferably without bras on; an alpha female who, when given too much power, goes insane, cuz them there womenfolk can’t handle that kinda power; and of course lots of slow-mo walking toward the camera (again, braless if possible).

If you go into The Craft expecting to see Wiccans doing Wicca, well, woe unto you. The teens in this movie who get into the titular Craft worship some kind of being called Manon, which is “like if god and the devil played football, Manon would be the stadium they played in.”  Okay, well, I could go with the vague notion of panentheistic deity.  And of course, since this was during that time in the 90s when Wicca was big business and the popular literature did its best to reel in the disposable income of teenagers, referring to mystical concepts like the Law of Three (don’t get me started) and ideas like glamour and “invoking the spirit” (a form of Drawing Down the Moon, near as I could tell).

There’s just something about the idea of moving to a strange city and being taken in by the mysterious outcasts who seem to offer answers to all of your pain and alienation: magic. Magic, they’ve realized, can fix anything, wreak vengeance against any wrongdoing, bring wealth and beauty…with no consequences!  Awesome! Sign me up!

Sara, the new girl in town, has strange abilities that she hides from everyone…except the three outcast girls (known as the Bitches of Eastwick by the odious jocks of the school), each of whom is ostracized for a different reason: Bonnie, because she’s covered in burn scars; Nancy, the leader, because she’s white trash; and Rochelle, the token black girl, who is taunted and baited by a particularly nasty blonde girl on the swim team.

With Sara’s arrival, the circle is complete and suddenly the coven’s spells begin to work in shocking ways: Bonnie’s scars disappear completely, Sara gains the attention of the (jackass) jock she likes, Nancy’s horrible stepfather dies and leaves her and her alcoholic mother a fortune.  For a while it seems like the universe is handing out favors to its mistreated daughters without question or consequence.

Except that there are consequences, as the Voice of Reason (played by Assumpta Serna) tries to impress upon the girls.  Lirio, the only adult in the film

I'm the Vaguely Accented Voice of Reason!

connected to Witchcraft who you would think the girls would look up to as a teacher, mostly goes ignored while the foursome shoplift from her store and eyeroll her advice.  I would say that’s a problem with the movie, but really, most teenagers do exactly that when an adult tries to educate them on the spiritual consequences of their behavior.  I mean, come on. You’re 16 and suddenly boys like you, you have money, and everything’s going great.  Who wants to hear about karma?

Unfortunately like so many young women in Hollywood films, our girls are unable to handle the power that they find.  They simply aren’t strong enough to be badass without going dark.  This movie came out during the Buffy the Vampire Slayer era when treating the supernatural as symbolic of the perilous lives of teenagers first became part of the conversation, and The Craft has it in spades.  The girls act and dress sexier as Witches, leading one to conclude that sexual power = female power, and female power = uncontrollable and must be stopped.

The sprinkled-in lessons of real magic that the movie adds are mostly lost to the snakes and spiders, but still, they do try: Lirio tells the girls that their actions will have consequences, and if you take the magic to a dark place, it will consume you.  Now, if they listened to her and learned an Important Lesson on Magical Living, the movie would be much shorter and involve far less screaming.  In the end, when her friends turn on her, Sara the protagonist is left to invoke the same power that drove her friends to evil, but has to rely on her own inner strength and the legacy of her mother to use it for good.  Even though she succeeds, we are left wondering just how much Sara really has learned, as she is willing to use her power for a dominance display over her old friends, warning them to be careful or they’ll “End up like Nancy,” who is now in a mental hospital shrieking and writhing.

Let’s be straight here:  The Craft is a pretty crappy movie.  The acting is uneven and in the case of Robin Tunney, who plays Sara, utterly wooden.  The script is basic teen melodrama stapled between supernatural set pieces.

And yet, for all its obvious glaring flaws, I freaking love this movie.

Like most young Wiccans I felt like an outcast wherever I went.  The idea that I could find a community even in such an insular little world as a private high school gave me a pathetic sort of hope that I wouldn’t always be alone in waving my wand around.  This was just after I moved to Austin, and still didn’t have many friends, but I was starting to find real Pagans, and my hopes and dreams were encapsulated by Sara finding this group of young women who accepted her and wanted her even with the psychic abilities that had kept her apart from everyone her whole life.  They were all broken, but they all found power in the broken places.

Wait...did anyone bring candles?

Moreover, I loved how the movie showed Witchcraft as a natural force that moved through nature, not just as purple fireballs or some other nonsense.  When the girls cast a Circle in the woods, butterflies flock to them, landing all over their arms.  Seeing the rituals I was learning represented on film was so strange for me, and so wonderful, that I rewound those parts again and again just to see Nancy say, “It is better that you should rush upon this blade than enter the Circle with fear in your heart.  How do you enter?”

I loved the altars that the girls built.  They reminded me so much of my own.  I liked that the characters read books, and meditated, and had slumber parties together where they tried out those old saws like “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” and got phenomenal results.

Up until the point that everything goes wrong and Nancy goes bat-shit (which, to be clear, Nancy was bat-shit from the get-go, and having magical power just made it more obvious), I loved the coven, because it seemed like they cared about each other and were fumbling toward a deeper connection, albeit in a ham-fisted adolescent sort of way.  They were doing what I wanted to do.

And aside from all the dead fish, and a few of the special effects, the portrayal of magic in The Craft was really very believable; as I said, it moves through nature, so when something’s happening the wind blows, the fire dances taller, butterflies gather.  That’s how it happens in real life, too.  Subtle cues that let you know…someone is listening, and you are not alone.

So, my final analysis: Don’t waste your energy getting offended.  Just enjoy it for what it is. The Craft is not a political statement, or a how-to guide, or anything but a cheesy horror movie that has Witches in it and some great imagery.

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Review: Mumbai Street Food class at Whole Foods Culinary Center

Seriously, this place is HUGE. It's the foodie megachurch.

I’ve been looking for ways to expand my horizons, and not just from a culinary perspective; I often feel like my life is a little circumscribed.  A few weeks ago I was tooling around online looking for something new to try, and I came across the cooking classes at the Whole Foods Culinary Center at 6th & Lamar.

If you’re familiar with Austin you know that the 6th & Lamar Whole Foods is the flagship store, and is less a grocery store than it is an amusement park.  I can wander around it for hours.  It turns out they also have a cooking school.  There are both demonstrative and hands-on classes, both of which involve lots of eating; they cover all sorts of subject matter from the fundamentals (knife skills, mother sauces) to the slightly wacky (a vegetarian Iron Chef session where you’re teamed with a chef and given a mystery ingredient).  They have partner classes that would be great for date night, and all sorts of ethnic and regional cuisines, both vegetarian and omnivorous.

Like everything at Whole Foods, they’re not cheap, but I thought, what the hell?  I haven’t been to a cooking class in nearly ten years, since my six months at culinary school; I had a little bit of money saved for something like this to shake up my routines; and they had the perfect class for me:  Mumbai Street Food.

YUM.

Street food is a big deal in India. Everywhere you go there are chai vendors, chaat stands, and food stalls.  (Chaat means “lick,” and basically translates as “snack.”)  Mumbai (Bombay) in particular is famous for its street food.

The class was taught by Shefaly Ravula, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable instructor who teaches several other Indian cooking classes at the center.  It was a hands-on class, with two students at each station, and since I was solo I partnered up with a young man who ended up being grateful for my culinary knowledge.  During the class I realized something interesting: there are a lot of people who don’t know a thing about cooking, and even less about Indian food.  I have the benefit of some formal training, a love of Good Eats, and an addiction to cookbooks, but apparently I’m even more awesome than I thought I was in the kitchen.  Who knew?

Well, besides all my friends.

The class menu included Pav Bhaji, Bhel Puri, three different chutneys, vegetable pakoras, and Masala chai.  With the exception of the more time-consuming chutneys, which were assigned two teams apiece, each team of two students got to prepare all the dishes, and at the end we all sat down in the demo kitchen (which has long tables instead of work stations) and ate our food, drank wine, and discussed the recipes.

Pav Bhaji is a tomato, potato, and pea curry that is served on grilled white bread.  It was pretty traditional in preparation and didn’t involve many esoteric ingredients aside from a spice blend made specifically for that recipe, which you could easily substitute with your own blend. The curry was delicious, especially on the grilled bread–Pav Bhaji is served on regular old white bread, not naan or roti, which is usually brushed with ghee.   Here’s a recipe for it from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  It ends up being more or less an Indian Sloppy Joe, only much healthier (and if you leave off the ghee, totally vegan.)

We had Tamarind-date Chutney, Cilantro-Mint Chutney, and Hot Garlic Chutney (my partner and I made the latter); I’m not big on chutneys, but it was still great fun.

All three chutneys combine in Bhel Puri, an odd dish served at room temperature that’s…well, it’s hard to describe.  Bhel is a crispy snack mix that’s sort of like Chex Party Mix, made up of puffed rice, chickpea flour noodles, and this other crispy thing.  You combine those with chopped onion, tomato, cooked potato, and peanuts, then mix the whole mess together with spoonfuls of the three chutneys, and eat it before it gets soggy.  The cereal (I can’t really figure out what else to compare it to) goes snap! crackle! pop! when it’s mixed.  It’s hard to describe the taste of the dish; it’s fresh, light, and slightly sweet from the tamarind, but also very garlicky and has a strange, but really appealing, texture.  (Here’s a picture of the dish that might help explain it.)  I didn’t think I would like it based on the ingredients (and the fact that I dislike raw onions and tomatoes intensely), but it was actually amazing. You can find the recipe for Bhel Puri as well as the three chutneys here.  The neat thing about it was that Bhel Puri isn’t something you’ll find in a lot of Indian restaurants and mainstream cookbooks; it’s authentic and involves a shopping trip, but once you have the ingredients it’s incredibly easy.

Shefaly made the pakoras while we were eating our first two dishes, since pakoras are deep fried and don’t translate well to a class environment; pakoras are basically like veggie tempura, only vegan; the batter is made with chickpea flour and spices and has the consistency of crepe batter.  Imagine Indian onion rings.  Oh so tasty, and usually served with various chutneys; it’s most popular with the tamarind variety.

(Chutney in India is not a chunky salsa type thing like we commonly think of; it’s just a sauce, and is normally pourable.  Some are cooked, some raw; they’re intense and complexly flavored.)

The last recipe was a typical Masala chai, and it was the only other nonvegan recipe, although it would be very easy to veganize simply by using soy milk instead of cow milk.  Chai in India isn’t as spicy as what is usually served here; it’s very sweet, generally made with an unrefined sugar called jaggery.  Chai is made with granulated, rather than leaf tea–granulated tea is the tiny bits left over after the leaves are separated out, and it makes for a strong chai.  It’s warm, comforting, and a perfect compliment to the bright spicy flavors of Bombay street food.

I highly recommend Whole Foods’ cooking classes to anyone wanting to expand their culinary repertoire. A class would make a great birthday gift (two of the students were there for a birthday outing).  The classes range from $18 for the lunchtime short courses (which are demonstrative only but do include lunch) to $65 for a 2 1/2 hour hands-on class where everything is provided (including cleanup, thank goodness). Most of the demo classes are 1 1/2 hours and are $35. The hands-on classes are small, so there’s plenty of attention from the instructor, and the facilities are wonderful (although they need to sharpen their knives). I came home with a recipe packet that had Shefaly’s pointers and recommended brands for spices and other ingredients; she also gave us information about Indian grocery stores in the area.

I plan to go back to the Culinary Center soon, and probably often if I can afford it. I figure, if I took myself to dinner and a movie I’d pay, say $20 for the meal and at least another $20 at the theater; add in the fact that you learn so much, get great recipes to try yourself, can take home your leftovers, get to drink wine, and meet people, and to me, it’s worth every penny.  As I said they would make great gifts to your foodie friends.

Just coming up in April-June they have a vegan cupcake class (sold out, unfortunately), a Lunch Express vegetarian class, an intro to the Engine 2 diet (the vegan firefighter diet created here in Austin) led by its founder, Rip Esselstyn; knife skills classes; a vegetarian pizza class; Moroccan veg; a Lunch Express Indian veg; an Indian roti workshop; fundamentals of sauteeing and steaming; vegetarian Tapas; foods for Cinco de Mayo; a Thai vegan feast; soy foods; gluten free Middle Eastern mezze; and even Canning 101…and those are just the ones that sound like fun to me!

It’s a food geek’s dream come true.

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