Friday Inspiration – 26 Acts of Kindness

26 acts

After the sadness we’ve experienced from the Newton tragedy, there is a big ray of sunshine.  A movement has sprung up called 26 Acts (hashtag #26Acts), encouraging people to actively engage in Random Acts of Kindness to remember those lost in Newton.

This has already gone viral, with the Facebook Page having 41000 likes.  Here are some resources:

Facebook 26 Acts

Milkshake

Twitter (search hashtag #26Acts)

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

It’s easy:  Overtip.  Hold doors open.  Serve in a soup kitchen.  Make an extra donation.  Call someone who lives alone.  Write a note to someone who made a difference in your life.  Smile at people in stores.  Leave a dollar on the snack machine at a hospital.

Imagine if we all did 26 Random Acts of Kindness between now and New Year’s Day.  What incredible energy to send out into the universe.  We sure need it.

Happy Holidays!

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Chef Yves’ Favorite Things (at Andrei’s Irvine)

Lucky us! We made a last minute decision to stop in at Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine on a weeknight, and the weekly special menu was Chef Yves’ Favorite Things.  We didn’t need to look in the regular menu!  Yves Fournier is a great chef with great taste.

We had:

smashed sweet potatoes

Crushed Baby Sweet Potatoes, with Tamarind Ketchup (you can’t even imagine how good this was) AND blue cheese dip.  Heavenly, crisp on the outside, like creamy mashed sweet potatoes on the inside.

Steamed Clams, with coconut, ginger and saffron broth.  Fresh, tender clams in a broth so good we asked for spoons and extra bread to get every last drop.  We dove into this so fast, I forgot to take a picture!

short rib tagine

Beef Short Rib Tagine:  Boneless Short Rib with garbanzo beans, kabocha squash, olives, raisins, dates, orange confit, pea tendrils, and a spicy almond yogurt.  Susi oohed and aahed and was barely willing to push this across the table for me to taste.  Great depth and wonderful seasoning.  Huge portion, and we managed to take home some leftovers.

cassoulet

French Cassoulet:  Traditional French white bean stew with duck confit, lamb osso bucco, and pork sausage.  Rich and decadent.  But beans are good for you right?  Fiber?  This got finished!  No leftovers.

We also enjoyed two relatively new cocktails.  Susan had a Circa 1932, made from Old Overholt Rye Whiskey – which if you are a Boardwalk Empire fan, is the booze factory that Nucky is restarting for Andrew Mellon.

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I had a PB&J, made with organic vodka, frangelico, raspberry vodka, muddled strawberry, and a salted peanut rim.

Yves has great favorites – I think they are some of mine too!  Go now – this menu only through 12/22.


Letting Go of Tightness

I’m a regular reader of ZenHabits by Leo Babauta, and many of his pieces are real gems. Leo has specifically given the world the right to republish his material. Today for the first time, here is one of Leo’s pieces in it’s entirety. He calls it the Liitle Trick, but it is a simple set of techniques to find and get rid of TIGHTNESS. People who practice meditation often learn quickly how to do this with muscles. Now find the tightness in your mind, and let go of that too!
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The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better

Post written by Leo Babauta.

I learned a little trick while practicing meditation that helped me, not only with meditation, but with just about everything I do.

I noticed I was reluctant to start the meditation, and paused to wonder why that is. What I noticed was a kind of tightness, in my chest and shoulders and neck, but also in my mind. Something about the meditation was causing me to tighten up, and that made me not want to do it each morning.

Well, there are a few choices here: 1) I could stop doing the meditation because I wasn’t enjoying it; 2) I could push myself through it even though I disliked it, or 3) I could let go of the tightness.
I chose to let go of the tightness.

It was amazing. I just noticed where the tightness was, and let it dissipate into the air. What was left was a more relaxed body, a relaxed mindset. And actually it was the relaxed mindset that ended up being most important. I could now approach the meditation with a looseness, a sense of exploration and happiness, that I couldn’t do when I was tight. And then I smiled, and things got even better.

Then I started applying that to everything I did: if I was writing and noticed tightness, I let go of the tightness and smiled — and the writing became instantly more enjoyable. Same for running, for meeting someone new, for cooking and washing and going to the store.
Every moment became instantly better.

The brilliant Lissa Rankin tells us that our mental and spiritual health are just as important as, if not more important than, our body health. She told me that at the root of it is our stress response and relaxation response to everything — work, relationships, day-to-day activities, sex and so on.
There are lots of ways to relax when we are stressed: meditation, yoga, tea, massage, exercise, talking with a friend, taking a hot bath or shower, sex. And I highly recommend all these.

But none of these actually relax you unless your mind approaches them with a relaxed attitude, and lets go of tightness. These things happen to trigger the release of tightness for most of us, but in truth, you can let go of tightness without any of these relaxing activities, no matter what you’re doing.

Here’s how to let go of tightness:

Notice the tightness. Pay attention to your body and mindset as you do any activity: work, meetings, driving, walking, reading, cleaning, talking with a loved one. If you notice tightness, that’s your cue.

Visualize it dissipating. Just imagine the tightness floating out of you and into the air, dissolving into little bits and then being blown away by the breeze. The simple act of this visualization can often work.

Go from tight to loose. You can practice this right now. Pause for a second and clench your fists. Now relax them. It’s that easy. Do it with your jaw. Now your abs. Now your shoulders. You can let go of tightness just by softening, letting go of the tightening that you’re creating yourself. It works for the mind too.

Breathe. Take in a deep, slow breath. Let your attention stay on this breath. Hold the breath in for 5 seconds, then slowly exhale and pause for another 5 seconds at the end of the exhale. Repeat a few times if you like. This can help loosen you up if you need it. If you don’t need it after Step 2 or 3, you can skip it.

Smile. This transforms everything. You can now approach any activity, any moment, with an attitude of relaxed enjoyment.

Honestly, once you’re good at it, you really only need to do one of the three middle steps (2-4). But steps 1 and 5 are crucial.
Notice the tightness, let it go, and smile. This moment, and every moment after, can become instantly better.

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Primo Restaurant – Orlando, FL

I had the pleasure of dining tonight at Primo Restaurant at the J W Marriott at the Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando, FL. I know what you might be thinking: a Marriott restaurant? Big deal. But, first remember that the J W Marriott is the flagship of the chain, and they are definitely more upscale.
This restaurant is co-owned by Chef Melissa Kelly, a James Beard winner who graduated first in her class at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, and apprenticed at several forward thinking restaurants, like Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Her style is locavore, and she grows her own veggies wherever possible, cures meats, makes all pasta in-house, and is obviously committed to quality.
The food shows the result!
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I started with an Amuse Bouche of Grouper Crostini. The breads are all housemade, carved from a large decorative bread station, proudly and out in full view, and served with a real good olive oil. My first course was Oyster Fritters, which maintained a fresh oyster taste with a lucious batter and a great aoili, garnished with fresh herbs. Melt in my mouth good.

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My next course was pork Saltimbocca, in a traditional sauce, over spinach. I subbed in gnocchi for the usual garlic mashed potatoes. This rivaled the best I'd remembered eating in Brooklyn or Little Italy in NY.

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The dessert choices were dazzling, including S'mores Two Ways, and Budino, but lately I've come to believe that any really good restaurant that makes its own donuts is compelling me to try them. These giant Zeppole were rich and satisfying. Just dusted with sugar – no fancy sauce needed.

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I’m staying here a week, so I have a feeling I might try this place again pretty soon!