December 30, 2009

To a healthier new year…

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 7:44 pm by dinaheng

One thing most people groan about when the calendar page turns is the need to lose those extra pounds gained over the holidays.

According to Laura Pensiero, the secret to controlling weight is staying in motion (however you can) and focusing on adding good foods to your diet, not by dieting and depriving your palate. So what are good foods? In Pensiero’s mind, it’s food that’s extremely fresh, locally grown, and eaten in season.

“It’s about moving into a lifestyle that provides you with more variety and more pleasure,” Pensiero says. “Food grown in season offers you better quality, price, total flavor profile, and leads to the engagement of excitement in the next season.”

Pensiero, owner of the restaurant, Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Gigi Market in Red Hook, N.Y. and a partner in Just Salad restaurants, is a registered dietitian, chef, and author of several cookbooks, including the recent “Hudson Valley Mediterranean…The Gigi Good Food Cookbook” ($30, William Morrow).

The author says most of us have lost touch with the foods we consume, and the people who grow the food we eat. In “Hudson Valley Mediterranean,” she offers more than 120 recipes that celebrate seasonal eating and the people of the Hudson Valley, from farmers to local craftsmen.

The recipes are easy to prepare, and show how foods that are harvested at their peak and brought to the table quickly yield more nutrition for better health.

“Work time in a recipe should never take more than 15 minutes,” Pensiero says. “It may slow cook all day, but in the time it would take to go somewhere and pick up take-out, you could put together a meal. It’s rewarding to nourish yourself with a wonderful, flavorful meal. It’s like getting a massage.”

She says food lovers appreciate waiting in springtime for white asparagus to appear, for that perfect summer tomato, for fall mushrooms, and holiday foods at the end of the year.

“Seasonal foods can be eaten yearround, but there’s a gift with every season,” she notes. “The flavor of a peach in August is different from a peach in January. For the best flavor, select the vegetable in the season it’s grown.”

For those who are not big vegetable eaters, Pensiero suggests mixing seasonal vegetables into casseroles, braises, or stews to start. Try adding butternut squash, instead of white potatoes, into a stew. To bring out the most flavor, try roasting a vegetable until all the sugars come out, instead of steaming it.

“I believe some people are drawn to more sweet foods, and others to more savory, salty foods,” she says. “My downfall is rich Hudson Valley cheeses, rather than desserts. What’s important is adding healthier foods, which will bump out unhealthy food from your diet. Sometimes, overeating is just not being satisfied, and searching for more.

“A lot of people weren’t satisfied with low fat, low carb diets. There is a place for fats and carbs in the diet. Enjoyment and pleasure has to be part of a diet, or it’s just not sustainable.”

Try these mouth-watering dishes in your imagination… Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast, Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Cauliflower and Peas, Apple Butter Harvest Pork Chops…

Then try them for real, and know that you’re creating your own healthier, happier new year.

December 24, 2009

Be your highest self…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality at 2:07 am by dinaheng

My parents have a small artificial Christmas tree that the grandkids assemble every year, depending on who’s around and tall enough to reach the top. This year, Emily, 8; Max, 6, and Mark, 5, took the honors.

As they decorated the tree with ornaments, they took note of a set of shiny red apples, each painted with the name of their mothers or an aunt. I don’t know which of my sisters decided to do that, but the hanging of the apples has become part of our family tradition.

As each apple is hung, the grandchild holding it calls out the name of the Eng sister, as if calling out the roll at school. The seven sisters are never all there at once, but I like to think we’re always there in spirit.

The holidays are wonderful times for gathering with those we love, expressing gratitude for all that we have, and remembering who we really are.

This year has been a tough one for most of us. The economy has hurt every industry, and where we’re headed still seems uncertain, making it more important than ever to focus on what’s really important in our lives.

So what is your vision for yourself? Do you know who you are, and what you aim to be? Not what you aim to do in life, but what you aim to BE.

We all want to reach goals, communicate better with others, feel secure, and make a difference in the world. To do any of this, we have to first know who we really are.

Too often, we look outside ourselves for the answer — we define who we are by the way others see us, by the things we own, by the titles we hold. But if we let outer things define  our identity, we’ll always be at the mercy of someone else’s judgment.

The only way to really own your life, and take control of it, is to take responsibility for it. You must own your dreams, your hopes and your ambitions, in order to give them life. You must also be honest about your fears, your faults and your mistakes, or you will sabotage your success with unrealistic expectations. It’s only when you own all of who you are that you can change what’s needed in order to achieve what you want.

If all you do is complain, or blame your lack of recognition on others, you’ll remain the victim of your own unhappiness. That is not the real you.

The real you is unlimited in its capacity to BE… to be generous to others… to be forgiving of those who have hurt you…. to be able to stand up for yourself without putting others down… to be open to new adventures…  to be who you were born to be.

Wonderful things are coming in the year ahead. Now is the time to stand in the center of possibility, and define what you want to be.

There’s an apple with your name on it, hanging on someone’s tree of gratitude. Wherever you are as 2009 winds down, know that you are being held in the Light, and that peace, love, and joy are yours. All you have to do is BE who you are.

December 17, 2009

Run… or walk… for your life

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 7:18 am by dinaheng

Paul Carrozza treats all people as athletes.

A longtime runner, he and his wife Sheila founded RunTex in Austin, Texas, which may be the nation’s largest store devoted to running. While the retail operation offers everything a runner may need, the activities sponsored by the store take the prize in heart and sole.

“We’re trying to bring people together through fitness,” Carrozza says. “Running not only helps people get fit, it brings them together on a neutral platform. We help non-profits put on cause-related fitness events to raise money for them. I use all our marketing dollars to sponsor a couple hundred of these events a year because the groups are strapped for  money.”

Carrozza leads a Morning Running Group in the city that’s open to all. Texas Gov. Rick Perry joins local runners now and then, as does Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, and other notables in Austin.  Carrozza  says running together helps to foster positive  relationships, no matter what people’s cultural, religious or political beliefs may be.

In addition to helping other charities, his RunTex Foundation operates a number of running-related initiatives, including providing game-based training programs to school age children in low income areas of Austin, preparing the kids for races and providing the t-shirts, coaching and race entry fees.

“We believe in four elements — have a coach, be on a team, have the proper equipment, and train for something,” Carrozza says. “You’ve got to have the right gear, or you’ll get hurt, so we give away about  20,000 shoes a year. If a kid commits to participate in our training program to get fit, we’ll give him the shoes.”

The RunTex Foundation has also sponsored summer camp programs to teach disadvantaged children about nutrition and running, and conducted a fitness challenge for community folks who have at least 100 lbs. to lose

“My passion is to get people moving,” says Carrozza, who has served two terms on The President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports. “When you move, you eat better, get blood flowing to the brain, and are healthier. In a still environment, where we’re sitting in offices and watching TV all the time, you need to be motivated to be active.”

Nine years ago, Carrozza, a 1985 graduate of Abilene Christian University, heard the story of an Abilene student runner who had escaped a massacre in his native Africa. Gilbert Tuhabonye was at a boarding school in Kibimba that was attacked by soldiers from the Hutu tribe.

Tuhabonye and the other students were herded into a building that the soldiers set on fire. After nine hours, buried under the burnt corpses of other students, Tuhabonye grabbed a charred femur bone from the nearest corpse, broke a window and was the only one to escape alive.

He made his way to the United States and became a national track champion. Carrozza became his personal coach, and then hired him to work at RunTex to coach runners himself.

We may not all be champion runners, but the more we move our bodies, the better our minds and spirits will feel. The more distance we cover in life, the richer our experiences become, and the more we have to give to others. We just have to put one foot in front of the other.

And, as Carrozza notes, “Walking is a form of running, too.”

December 10, 2009

Sing to your heart’s content

Posted in Between Us column, Television at 1:51 am by dinaheng

We all love to sing. We do it from the moment we’re born, bursting forth with the cry that announces to the world that we have arrived. Whether we exercise our voice in music class, church choirs, or in the privacy of our shower, there’s something about singing that feeds the soul.

Judging by the success of “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” and other amateur competitions, a lot of us would love to become overnight singing sensations, or at least make it to the finals for a few minutes in the spotlight.

The latest TV competition to feature both great and perhaps less-than-great musical performances will be NBC’s a capella singing competition, “The Sing-Off,” which airs December 14, 15, and 16 at 8 p.m. Eastern, ending with a live finale on Monday, Dec. 21 at the same time.

Singing a capella, if you’re not familiar with the term, means singing without accompaniment. The contestants — groups of four to 10 members — must impress the judges with their wind pipes and personality without benefit of keyboard or background instruments.

Open auditions were held in four cities over the summer, drawing huge crowds of singers, of all age groups, eager to showcase their talent for a shot at an Epic Records/Sony Entertainment recording contract.

“We saw everything from collegiate a capella groups to R&B, new Boyz to Men groups to Sweet Adelines,” says Michelle McNulty, casting director for “The Sing-Off.” “It’s really amazing what people can do with their voices. Being a vocal band is a special skill.”

What did it take to make the cut, from a casting standpoint?

“Voice and how well they harmonize is important,” McNulty says, “but so is that stage presence, being able to get the audience on their feet. We want the best groups on the show, not the good, bad, and ugly. I didn’t see tons and tons of bad singing because you  have to work with your group to get a good sound.”

McNulty and Petra Haden, a singer and recording artist who served as vocal coach and arranger for the reality show, listened to hundreds of singers in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, giving feedback and advice to promising performers, whether or not they moved on to the next stage of the contest.

McNulty says everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, but not everyone has that IT factor that makes heads turn the moment you walk into a room. Her advice for aspiring contestants?

“Leave the nerves at the door,” she says. “Have fun with your performance. Live, and love what you’re doing. Connect with your audience.”

The contestants who make it to the finals of “The Sing-Off” will be singing for viewers’ votes, and the winners will be given an Epic/Sony recording contract. As for the rest of us, well, we’ll be singing to our heart’s content, too… even if it’s just in our imagination.

December 2, 2009

‘Christmas in Canaan’ not to be missed

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships, Spirituality, Television at 9:52 pm by dinaheng

“I won’t raise that boy up to be a bigot,” says Daniel Burton, a widower who’s doing his best to rear three children on a limited income in the Hallmark Channel’s original movie “Christmas in Canaan.”

For Billy Ray Cyrus, who plays Burton in the film, the movie holds personal meaning. Set in the1960s, the story shows how two young boys — one white and one black — overcome racial tensions to form a lifelong bond because of the prodding of one boy’s father (Cyrus) and the other’s grandmother, Miss Eunice (Candus Churchill).

“I felt that Daniel was my dad, Ron Cyrus,” says the singer-actor, who kept looking at old family Polaroids from the 1960s for inspiration during filming. “The way Daniel brought the two boys together was exactly the way my dad would have handled the situation. My dad is the guy who persuaded me to go into acting. He said he wanted me to have a career as diverse as Kenny Rogers, so it’s ironic that I did this film with Kenny.”

“Christmas In Canaan,” which airs Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern and at other times through Dec. 19 on the Hallmark Channel, is based on the book written by Grammy Award winner Kenny Rogers and Donald Davenport.

Great strides have been made since the Civil Rights Movement, yet prejudice is a challenge we have not fully overcome. Violent deeds have become a war of words, couched in politically correct terms, and overt actions have become less obvious slights.

The simple truths shared in “Christmas In Canaan” are a reminder that it doesn’t take much to  bridge our differences, if we have the courage to open our hearts and look at issues from a higher perspective.

“I’m from Eastern Kentucky and grew up in the heart of Appalachia,” Cyrus says. “I was brought up with my grandfather, who was a Pentecostal preacher, and the Golden Rule was in my upbringing. We were taught to treat everyone the way you want to be treated, regardless of the color of their skin.”

After Miss Eunice dies, a teenage Rodney (Matt Ward) moves in with DJ (Jacob Blair) and the Burton family. When some white neighbors try to destroy a civil rights meeting held by the black community, the Burton family rises to support the young man who has become a part of their family.

What Daniel does to make that Christmas special during a tough economic year shows the power of hope and belief, and will resonate with many today.

“I pray for things to have purpose and meaning,” Cyrus says. “This movie is about love, and the seeds we sow will be the fruit that manifests in our lives. There’s still racism in the world, but we’re all one race — the human race, and that’s what this film represents. We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go. But we’re all here for a reason… to give back and to love each other.”