by guest blogger Holly Walck, Iyengar yoga practitioner and teacher in Bethlehem, PA, and Istanbul, Turkey
What do you mean there’s no celery?
For several years now, I have had the good fortune to be Maria’s Yoga teacher. Most Sundays we meet for two hours, with a few minutes spent to catch up on the week’s events before we begin. That time helps me decide if we’re going to stick with the planned sequence or take a much-needed detour. For example, if Maria tells me she has been traveling all week, I’ll teach her supported poses, which are deliciously refreshing, instead of practicing unsupported backbends, which require a lot of energy and can be dehydrating.
The key to good yoga teaching is adaptation: As teachers we have to see the students in front of us clearly and make adjustments based on observation skills cultivated over the years. I have recently had to call on the powers of adaptation that I developed from yoga teaching after I moved from Pennsylvania to Istanbul, Turkey, and learned to cook food for my family that is both (a) seasonal and (b) local.
I became a chef at 5 years old. I clearly remember rides on the back of my dad’s bike to the local 7-11 on a Saturday morning. After we’d make the trip home, I’d sit on the kitchen counter, watching him fry the eggs “dippy-style.” It was one of my first conscious culinary experiences to take the dry, white toast and soak it in the salt and pepper–infused runny yellow yolks. By 12 years old I was making my own variation on the theme des oeufs: scrambled and oozing with American cheese and crispy bacon bits on whole wheat toast for lunch at my Nana’s house (shout-out to the Food Network for all the free cooking lessons that inspired my initial jaunts into la cuisine).
In the (15!) ensuing years, I started practicing yoga, became a vegetarian, and, at Maria’s urging, began to buy only organic food (whenever possible) from my local grocery superstore. I thought I was rocking the hip, organic-veg thing until this past spring, when I moved to Istanbul and couldn’t understand where all the celery and Swiss chard had gone. No longer was I climbing into my car and driving to that store where I could get (almost) whatever produce I wanted whenever I wanted. Asparagus quiche in August? Absolutely! Mango salsa in March? Most assuredly! I was now walking the (very hilly) streets of my neighborhood to the produce stand, where I had to practice what I had learned from yoga: the art of adaptation.
This lesson was learned when I went to buy the ingredients for our first dinner party in the new flat, when the homemade gnocchi with basil pesto sauce turned into a marinara with roasted eggplant and oil-cured olives. What I wanted (fresh basil), I couldn’t have (not in season), and it was oddly exhilarating to be told “no”! I had to learn to be absolutely present from a culinary perspective. What you see is what you get when your food source is what’s delivered from the local farms and bakeries. This means that as I hike the route that takes me to the bakery, then the cheese shop, and lastly, the produce stand, I let go of any thoughts regarding what I want to make for dinner and just buy what is fresh. I’ve stopped making a grocery list because it felt defeating when nine out of 10 items on it weren’t in season. I have learned to empty my mind and open my heart to what is, instead of hoping for what isn’t, and that has made all the difference in the world.