Summer Solstice Pomodoro

Ahhhhhhhhh, summer.

 

Even though I live in the hot, hot desert, I still love summer!  I love it even more since our raised bed garden has been growing magnificently the last couple years and our tomato “yield” is great.  Because I mean, come on, what says “summer!” more than fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes?!

At least to me.

And my husband.

And our daughter.

You see, our heritages are Italian and we looooove tomatoes!  I’m pretty certain my raised bed garden mostly exists so my husband can solely grow tomatoes.  He humors us with lots of greens, herbs and various seasonal veggies in the garden that, honestly, mostly he and my daughter care for, but those could all die and, as long as his tomatoes survived, he’d feel like a successful farmer.  

Each year he learns more about caring for the soil and when to get tomatoes planted here so we can enjoy them the longest without them stewing on the vine in the desert heat.  Every morning he gets up with the sun and scours his babies, I mean, plants for hornworms, he plucks off unworthy sucker leaves, he rubs himself down with the aroma of fresh tomato stalks (or something, I just know he comes in smelling like tomato plants most mornings).  And each year it gets better and better.

Why not love tomatoes so much?  They’re so full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that they have been proven to help protect heart health, lower blood pressure, improve vision, reduce cholesterol, provide relief from skin irritations, urinary tract infections and diabetes, and stave off certain types of cancers!

Um, wow!  Veggies are UHmazing, UHstounding, and UHtterly fantastic, aren't they?

This early spring, we were super stoked to find organic San Marzano tomato seedlings at our local nursery.  My husband practically broke out in song, dance and tears.  

You see, San Marzanos are his absolute favorite kind of tomatoes.  I know.  He has a favorite kind of tomato.  Don’t you?

These are the Roma tomatoes he chooses to make his infamous “gravy” with.  “Gravy” is what our families call marinara.  It’s a northeastern americanism based on the definition of the Italian words for pasta sauce.  It was a bonding moment for us when we met waaaaay back when because in Miami — where we lived then, there’s not a lot of people saying, “Man, I could really go for some pasta with gravy!”

Our grandmothers called it gravy.  So, it’s gravy!

Gravy is great!  Admittedly, though, it’s a little heavy in the summertime.  Enter (my personal favorite use of San Marzanos):  POMODORO SAUCE.  This one is not called gravy by our families.  I don’t exactly know why other than that it is fresher and lighter and quicker to cook.  

 

I digress…

 

Ahhhhhhhhh, summer.  It’s the summer solstice.   

HAPPY SOLSTICE!!  

I absolutely love celebrating nature.  Living in the mojave desert, we don’t experience the full spectrum of seasons at our house, but I have found that celebrating them with ritual and observation anyway makes them all the more meaningful.  

In my yoga practice, I pay extra attention to Suryanamaskara (sun salutations) during a seasonal shift.  I drink in every inhale and fully release every exhale.  I honor the rising and the setting sun every time I reach upward or fold forward.  I do a few more rounds of these than usual and I mix in every traditional style of sun salutation.

Through yoga, we are always working toward true balance — just like nature does.  We are part of nature.  We reflect it, and nature reflects us.  Nature is constantly moving in the direction of equal light!  We are either ascending to long days full of light, or descending to shorter ones with more darkness.  Our bodies, through yoga, are equally expanding and contracting into and out from a state of balance, equilibrium, symmetry.  

Additionally, as a family we do something to acknowledge the change of seasons.  Sometimes we spend time in nature.  Other times we leave gifts for the birds and fairies in our garden.  We may make little alters or tablescapes with seasonal goodies.  And then there are the days when we decide to fully enjoy nature’s bounty and make a delicious meal out of only seasonal vegetables.  

That’s what we've done for this summer solstice.  One by one, we’ve been picking the San Marzano tomatoes and setting them aside from all the other varieties our garden is gifting us this year.  We’ve been eating and enjoying the cherry tomatoes, the heirlooms, the beefsteaks and the pear/grape ones while the San Marzanos piled up in a bowl in the fridge awaiting a very special event:  Solstice Family Dinner!

The star of the dinner show?  Pasta Pomodoro!

As I mentioned, Pomodoro is a light, fresh, summery tomato sauce.  It’s very quick to prepare and very hard to mess up.  It’s utterly delicious when you strike the right balance of flavors and it goes well on virtually any kind of pasta, spiralized veggies or spaghetti squash.

In the true tradition of our grandmothers and moms, there’s no real “recipe” for this dish, so I’m going to do my best to give you base quantities to use, but I want you to use your eyes, nose and tastebuds to make it perfect for you.  If it seems too dry, moisten it up with a little more olive oil.  If you looooove garlic, add more.  Be sure to salt it just enough to brighten the tomato flavor without overdoing it, and do not, I repeat, do not give in to the urge to cook this just a little bit longer.  Turn off that heat and step away from the stove!  After all, it’s summer.  Keep it cool!
 

May the longtime sun shine upon you and may you share this meal with people you love!

 

Pomodoro Sauce Image.png

 

POMODORO SAUCE
for approximately 1lb of pasta

We love this so much, for our solstice meal we broke out the fancy china pasta bowls!  It’s super tasty as is, or, for some added pizzazz, sprinkle on a little parmesan or drizzle on hot pepper oil/add a dash of dried hot pepper flakes.

10-15 Plumb/Roma Tomatoes (preferably San Marzano variety)
20 small/10 large Fresh Basil Leaves
12 Fresh Garlic Cloves
¼-½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

  • Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise. Then slice each half in half lengthwise again. From there, cut the long strips into chunky pieces, approximately 2 inches thick.

  • Stack the basil leaves and gently slice them into thin strips or ribbons.

  • Carefully peel the garlic cloves and remove the root edges. Thinly slice each clove into discs.

  • Add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat it over medium heat. Once the oil is just warm, add the garlic and let it cook mildly for 3-5 minutes. Do not burn the garlic and avoid over-stirring so the pieces maintain their disc shape and do not break. Once the garlic is softening, add tomatoes, basil and salt to the skillet. Stir to coat everything with oil. Cook over medium heat 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat, crack in some fresh black pepper and toss again. Let sit in the warm skillet for up to 5 more minutes and then pour over hot cooked pasta or veggies.

 

How To Breathe To Engage The Parasympathetic Nervous System And Calm Down

Did you know that by taking even just a minute to slow your breathing and focus on it enough to deepen your inhale and make your exhale as long as possible, you are actually signaling to your nervous system that all is well and both your mind and body will calm down?  

It’s true!  

To understand how this works, let’s review what our amazing Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is, shall we?  The ANS is responsible for controlling the activities of organs and involuntary muscles like the heart and smooth muscles.  Because the ANS oversees and directs them to do their good work in their world (our bodies), these all function harmoniously without us consciously thinking, “Beat, heart, beat…. Release acid, stomach…. Hey, liver, I think now would be a good time to secrete sugars and enzymes…”  

The ANS is made up of two parts:  Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.  The Sympathetic Nervous System is the part of our physiological stimuli that signals us to respond with increased action.  This is where the ever-famous “fight or flight” response comes from.  The Sympathetic Nervous System tells the heart to speed up and the mind to become increasingly alert.  The Parasympathetic Nervous System activates more tranquil responses in the body like a lower heart rate and releasing saliva when something smells yummy.

Our primitive mind is wired to look for stressors — that’s why it’s so much easier to recall negative thoughts or get caught up in dramatic imaginings than positive ones.  That’s also why when we are stressed we tend to become more scatterbrained or overwhelmed with fearful thoughts of what might be.  What sometimes feels like a fluke (to me, at least) because we seem to become stuck in an uncontrollable loop of negativity, is technically a protective measure of the Sympathetic Nervous System.  The good news is, the human brain has been found to be quite elastic and this pattern is easily shiftable by mindfully engaging our breath.  

Yes, our breath.  

Breathing is a conscious action we can take on the more superficial level to signal to our behind-the-scenes automatic self.  A miracle of being human if you ask me!

 

***My 8 year old daughter walked into my office at this point in this writing as I was reading it aloud from the beginning to make sure it flows sensibly and she listened attentively.  When I was done her eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and she simply said, “Whoooooaaaa.  That’s cool!”  It really is, isn’t it?!  We should all take a moment every now and again to acknowledge the coolness — for lack of a better term — of being human.***

 

I digress…

Doing relaxed breathing exercises on a regular basis when we are not experiencing stressful circumstances is a healthy effort that can help us stay calm more often.  This practice can generally lead us to have calmer responses to stressors.  Think about it, when your best friend is super stressed and freaking out, isn’t your first instinct to tell her to breathe?  

When we practice pranayama* as part of a weekly routine, we learn to automatically slow down our anxiety with the breath.  Over time we become more calmly responsive and trusting in the face of negative tension.  Taking those settling breaths in the midst of angst becomes second nature.  Or at least a little easier.

*Pranayama simply means, “breathing exercises.”  The Sanskrit word translates into life sustaining energy — or breath (prana) being drawn out (ayama).

The reason I prefer a breath-centered, flowing yoga practice is because it includes constant calming pranayama.  The body only moves once and inhalation or exhalation has been activated.  The breath is the trigger that sets off the reaction of movement in the body.  The breath is slow, deep and long so the body moves gently even into the most advanced postures while the mind slows down its chattery thought patterns.  I recommend practicing mindfully flowing yoga with attention on the breath as well as focused breathing exercises as part of a regular routine.

You won’t always have a lot of time to do a full yoga sequence.  I totally get that.  So, below I’m outlining a simple breathing exercise you can do every single day, to generate a more naturally calm state throughout your entire being by conjuring your brilliant Parasympathetic Nervous System.

This exercise is so simple, you can even do it in public without looking like a “weirdo.”  LOL! 

 

copyrightmagareeshimountainmeditating.jpg

 

STEP 1:  NASAL BREATHING

One of the most effective yet simple ways to beckon a soothing internal response from the Parasympathetic Nervous System is to slowly breathe through the nose.  When we are stressed we tend to breathe in a panting-like manner, quicker shallow breaths through the mouth.  Nasal breathing is naturally slower.  So, to start a calming breathing practice, simply breathe as deeply and slowly through your nose whenever it occurs for you to do so.

The first step in most mindfulness programs is to simply pay attention.  So by taking little breaks throughout your days to pay full attention to your breath, you are becoming more mindful.  Look at you, all monk-like and stuff!

Before moving onto Step 2, take at least 1-5 minutes engaging in this deep, slow nasal breathing:  

  • Sit up nice and tall with your shoulders in a relaxed position drawn backward and downward to softly open the chest.  Let the natural sway of the lower back remain intact, but don’t over-sway and jut out the lower ribs.  Line up the shoulders over the hips and the chin over the belly button.

 

  • Notice the current rhythm of your breath.  Does it feel stuck or tight anywhere along the way?  Are your inhales and exhales short or long?  Don’t judge, just notice.

 

  • When you feel ready, slow that rhythm down.  Take deep, slow breaths through the nose into the lungs.  Work to fully expand through the ribcage, diaphragm, and mid-back with each inhalation.  See if you can take a teensy pause between your inhales and exhales, holding the breath in or out.  Just be calm and quiet during the little pause.

 

  • Blow your nose if it gets stuffy or runny and begin again.

 

 

STEP 2:  EXHALATION ELONGATION (this would make a good name for a Jazz record)

Now that you’ve centered yourself with nasal breathing, it’s time to do the deeper work that will bring forth a tranquility response from your Parasympathetic Nervous System.

  • Take a deep slow breath in through the nose.

 

  • Softly pause before exhaling.

 

  • Exhale quietly through the mouth for as long as you can.  This exhale will be longer than the inhale was — almost like if you were singing and holding out a note.  The breath should not be forced out in any way.  Let it be released gently, incrementally.  Do feel a small engagement at the top of the diaphragm as you push out the last bit of the exhale, but this is a natural engagement.  You are not to pull the belly back or thrust the chest down at all.  Keep the shoulders relaxed.

 

  • Repeat for 1 minute.  For most people this will be somewhere between 5 and 8 breaths.  Try to calm the thoughts in your mind by only paying attention to your breathing.  It can help by thinking, “I am inhaling.  Inhale.”  / “I am exhaling.  Exhale.”  That way your mind has something to do at the cognitive level and won’t wander so much.

 

  • As you enjoy this practice, increase the time you spend doing it to up to 5 minutes.

 

 

I hope this practice brings you closer to a sense of reverence for being human, for being YOU.  I wish for you to find a calm state more often, especially in stressful times.  There are always going to be stressors in our lives, but our response can be shifted from fight-or-flight to one of trust and calm clarity.

My Beliefs

MY BELIEFS ...

✴ I believe in people — we are all born of light and filled with the same goodness.

✴ I believe in the power of yoga, music, words, and glitter.

✴ I believe in being strong and flexible.

✴ I believe kids are capable, creative geniuses deserving of respect.

✴ I believe in fairies, mermaids, Santa, enchanted realms, magic, and spirit guides.

✴ I believe dog noses are actually the bees’ knees.

✴ I believe if we were all truly grateful for our bodies, we could change the world.

✴ I believe organic food is best.

✴ I believe in natural healing, herbal tea, fresh juice and kale smoothies.

✴ I believe in collaboration and connection.

✴ I believe mindfulness is simpler than we make it out to be.

✴ I believe we are our own gurus.

✴ I believe in the language of energy.

✴ I believe in love

What do you believe???

What do you believe???

My Manifesto

My Magareeshi Manifesto (I love alliteration!):

✴ Create and share things that make the world a brighter place.
✴ Foster deeper consciousness, greater peace, and lots of fun.
✴ Help people understand that leading a natural life, inspired by yoga is easy.
✴ Support meaningful social causes.

It is my intention to be healthy, have loads of fun and live life with a yogic foundation.

In my world sleep, music, yoga and tasty, organic food are absolute necessities.

Loose leaf tea, earrings, steaming hot baths and wine are always fabulous ideas.

Ego is overrated, and being judgmental or mean (to myself or others) is a definite NO.

Being honest and authentic is always necessary.

Fantasizing about being a rockstar is totally reasonable.

Striving to brighten the world is a must.

 
 

At the end of the day, LOVE, GRATITUDE, CONNECTION, and LAUGHTER are what really matter.

I aim to joyfully make all my whimsical dreams come to life. I am someone who:               Shares anything good in the world I know of; loves freely on people (and dogs); supports people through yoga, music and natural living; is a domestic goddess of holistic homeyness, a playfully mindful mom, and a solid partner to my indefatigable husband.

Above all else, I try to be kind and happy every day!

I want my life and work to inspire others to live brightly ever after!

 

My Story

My (looooong!) Story ~

Seriously! You may as well brew some tea, grab a snack and put up your feet because this is practically a novella.

I’m Maggie Verderame — aka, Magareeshi. Magareeshi is a nickname given to me because I’m somewhat of a “yogi.” I don’t think I’m like The Maharishi or anything! In fact, I’m totally against the whole “guru” thing. (So, if you’re looking for me to be your guru, I must tell you now, I won’t do it! You are your own guru. I am happy to inspire your inner guru to guide you. But that’s all. I mean, sheesh, I don’t levitate, nor am I better than you are. I may have some insights for you, but when you apply them, your own brilliance will shine through — and what I want is for you to be shiny, happy YOU! Ok, now back to me ...)

On paper, I am a singer-songwriter and a yoga teacher. I’m also a happily married mindful mommy, a vegetarian home cook, and a creator of FUNctional art and jewelry. Yoga is the foundation for everything I create.

I’ve been doing yoga since 1992, when I was 19 years old. (You do the math!) When I was about 10 years old I was diagnosed with scoliosis. If you don’t already know, scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. My case was severe enough to warrant wearing a custom-made hard brace that encased my entire torso. I wore my brace 23 hours a day, allowed only to take it off for an hour of stretching, swimming or bathing. As I grew, so did the severity of my spine’s curve.

By my teenage years, my hips and shoulders were out of alignment with each other, my ribs were rotated in a wonky formation, and my thoracic spine (the upper back part), was shifted way far over to the right, under my shoulder blade. I began having immunity issues, and chronic kidney infections in my left kidney that could be attributed to my spinal alignment. I had a bit of a hump (not the technical term — that’s “kyphosis”) on the right side of my upper back. I kind of made all this work for me and my teenage attitude by simply standing in a bit of a sassy looking stance most of the time. I went to school, was outgoing, and was able to keep studying and working at my passion, which was musical theatre. Truth be told, though, I hurt. My body hurt a lot, all the time. Occasionally I missed school and opening nights and talent shows because of my kidney problems or other health issues.

At 16 I was told I needed surgery to straighten my spine. I was supposed to have a metal rod attached to my spine, forcing and holding it into place. My orthopedic doctor told me if I didn’t have surgery, the chances of my being in a wheelchair when I was an adult were high, given how consistently my curve kept increasing. He also suggested that I wouldn’t ever be able to be pregnant because it would put too much pressure on my ribs and back. Outwardly I was happy and peace-loving, but I was a pretty angry, confused kid.

Before I was diagnosed with scoliosis, there was a lot of stress in my life. My parents divorced when I was a baby and a few years later my mom remarried a man who became an abusive alcoholic. I was physically and sexually abused when I was little. My mom tried hard to keep things positive, but by the time I was a teenager, all this stress contributed to tight muscles, pain, and the intensity of my spine’s curve.

I know this all sounds like a total bummer, but there’s a point to it and it has a happy ending, so please keep reading .......

Due to an insurance debacle, I never got my surgery in high school. I didn’t know anything else I could do to help my physical state, so I kept on keeping on in hopes that someday I would be able to have surgery. In the meantime I received a diploma from a small college in my “backup” field of study, broadcast journalism, while I worked in a record store, performed in community theatre and wrote and sang my own songs in some dive-y places. Eventually, though, my back hit a tipping point. I had to stop working, I couldn’t go further on in school and I certainly couldn’t perform. I could barely walk. I was hunched over and in pain and for a few weeks when I was 19 I lost all the feeling on the surface of my back.

Insert hopeful music here .......

Around that time, a new friend suggested I see her mother who was an acupuncturist. I made an appointment. I had no idea what I was doing, by the way! This was before Google and I did no research whatsoever; I just went with it. At my first appointment, in addition to using needles, the acupuncturist did all sorts of bodywork I’d never heard of. I left her office in what felt like a different body. I had more mobility and relaxed muscles. I could breathe more deeply. I was happier and the world around me looked brighter.

At the end of my appointment, the acupuncturist asked me if I had ever tried yoga. I hadn’t, but for some reason — again with absolutely nothing to go on, it sounded like a GREAT idea! We decided on a regular treatment plan for me that I couldn’t afford and I committed to trying yoga right away. Ah, to be 19 again! Just wing it!!

I did my part. I showed up for appointments and I went to a yoga class at a gym. I had some lower body flexibility, a wee bit of coordination, and no upper body strength. It was odd. It was challenging. It was kind of funny. I was the youngest and least physically capable person in class. I left thinking, ‘Okay, not sure what I just did there, but it was kind of cool, I guess.’ Right away I noticed I felt really, really happy. I felt connected to things I found meaning in like flower children and social justice and peace and health. I thought that was amusing. It felt good. A few minutes later in the locker room the yoga teacher approached me. She said, “Oh, I’m so glad I ran into you! I see what’s going on in your body and I know that was hard for you, but, if I may? Just ... just ... come back. Try yoga again, ok?” It all seemed so peculiar and I had no idea why I was doing any of what I was doing, but I said, “Okay. Sure.”

I did go back. Weekly. I went to my acupuncture appointments weekly, too. I finally fessed up that I couldn’t pay for all of this and I got my first lesson in miracles-through-people when the acupuncturist offered me a job! She said she would pay me to be her receptionist/office manager and her benefits package would be all the free acupuncture I needed ... because, she pointed out, I needed A LOT.

My time spent in the acupuncture office and at yoga classes exposed me to the world of natural living. I began to eat differently. I began to think differently. I began to feel differently. I began to associate with alternative healthcare practitioners, bodyworkers, mindful artists and meditators. I began to attend all sorts of workshops and classes. I was healthier and happier. I was more positive, hopeful and physically capable. I found a lovely yoga teacher who altered every posture to suit my needs, even when it was nowhere near what the rest of the class was doing. She taught me that yoga is for EVERYONE, regardless of their circumstance. I got myself a yoga book and I did yoga all the time.

I decided to go to acupuncture school because the system of Oriental Medicine had so positively impacted my life. I remember the first sentence of my application essay was, “Acupuncture changed my life.” In school I continued to get healthier and healthier and I realized that, in addition to helping heal me, acupuncture was my catalyst to yoga and learning more about nutrition and natural living. I figured out that I didn’t actually want to be an acupuncturist. I missed performing and wanted to live as an artist with enough of an understanding of Oriental Medicine to support my life and to be able to share it with others. It became clear to me that I wanted to explore all kinds of natural healing to have a positive impact on the world — especially children because I knew what it was to be an unhealthy, unhappy, disrespected child. So I left school. I eventually left the acupuncture office and I went back into theatre (and, therefore, bar tending — which totally paid off because it was at the bar where I met my indefatigable, inspiringly musical husband in 1995 and we’ve been collaborating ever since).

All the while I did yoga. Yoga and healthy living permeated everything I did. It became the foundation for my life. I learned to live with more acceptance and go with the flow and follow my muses. When I was given a group of teeny tiny kids to direct in a musical, I inherently infused yoga into that work. When I taught preschool and implemented an original after school dramatics program for kids 12 and under, I shared yoga with those kids, as well. It made sense to me that kids should experience yoga because it could help them be calm, happy and focused. It never occurred to me, however, that I was or would be a yoga teacher. In fact, I didn’t exactly know what I would do professionally so I explored working with kids, writing, performing and anything that interested me. My freelancing, entrepreneurial spirit was born and I trusted I would figure out a way to weave everything I loved together.

Fast forward about a zillion (okay, maybe 9) years later when my yoga teacher at the time told me I should be a yoga teacher. I laughed because 9 years into my practice, I was just starting to try to do a headstand. You see, over the years, my spine had shifted closer to the center of my back, my ribs had rotated into a healthier alignment, and my shoulders and hips had released a lot, all without surgery. So, I was finally feeling able to explore yoga like the other able bodied yogis in my classes. I was getting strong. I was getting brave. I could get a little adventurous and try to do things that had seemed impossible earlier in my life like, stand on my head. I thought my teacher was crazy. And yet, somehow, once again, I went with it and wound up interning under her, attending yoga teacher trainings and started teaching in 2001. I had a knack for it and I absolutely loved teaching yoga!

In 2003 my husband and I opened a yoga studio in Las Vegas (where we live because he is a badass drummer for a cool show on the strip!). I directed the studio for 5 years. During that time I developed my kids yoga program, trained a slew of yoga teachers, created my own teacher trainings, connected yoga with art and music locally, and basically had a grand old time with some of the most wonderful people on earth! In 2008 we decided to have real life baby instead of a yoga studio one, and our full-of-moxie wee girl was born in 2009.

Since that time the foundation of yoga in my life has become an even fiercer force! It has led me to a deeper understanding of mindfulness through parenting and ignited a passion in me to support other families in their pursuit of happy, healthy, mindful living. My artistic soul is called to create and share like never before; the music and artful things I make all emerge from yoga. I am driven to de-mystify yoga, showing how it can be practically applied by ANYONE regardless of their background or beliefs. I’ve put it all together and now use yogic principles and entertainment to inspire people of all ages to lead more natural, joyful lives!

Through yoga I have become grateful, even for the dramatic negative things that have come my way; they have shaped who I am today. Yoga and music are interestingly similar and working closely with both for so many years, I have learned how to improvise and go with the flow. (Full disclosure: I am not perfect and stumble often, but I at least fall back on this intention every time I become overwhelmed!) I have learned that one thing leads to another, we are all connected, a tolerant world view leads to understanding and peace, and that there are many blessings in disguise among us. Thanks to challenging circumstances bringing me to yoga and all that unfolded from there, I am living brightly ever after as a homeschooling mom, teacher, and creator!

And I hope to contribute to you and yours doing the same! If you want to get started with a yoga retreat day, click here.