Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Yoga with Toulouse LeTrek

Toulouse LeTrek enjoys Ontario snow...
Well, it's that time of the year again... Time sure flies when you're ... well ... flying--all over the world, that is...

Here is my 8-pose Christmas Yoga Exercise to help you gear up for all that Christmas cheer. It’s just the thing for a body bloated on Christmas pudding, turkey and baking.

Did you know that the word yoga means “union”. Yoga creates harmony by controlling your breath and holding your body in steady poses called “asanas”. Five key elements include proper breathing, proper exercise, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation. Yoga should be supervised by a qualified teacher. Don’t worry. That’s me.
Toulouse stretches

So, first off, choose a pleasant, peaceful and spacious setting for your exercises. You might like to turn the lights down and light some candles and put on your favorite Christmas music (so long as it isn’t “I am Santa Claus” by Bob Rivers or “Takin’ Care of Christmas” by Randy Bachman). You can use a mat for extra comfort and give yourself lots of room. Then you need to do some stretching exercises …

Toulouse doing headstand
The purpose of the Headstand is to rest the heart, which usually has to work against gravity and will likely do some extra laps this Christmas with all the cholesterol coursing through you from figgy pudding, turkey stuffing and eggnog. Some people think headstands heal everything. Well, it sure gives you a different perspective on things! And that’s gotta be good for you.

The Dolphin pose strengthens the arms and
Toulouse does the dolphin
shoulders. It kind of prepares you for the headstand. I’m doing a great job, aren’t I? Did you know that this pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression? It also improves digestion and relieves headache, insomnia, back pain and fatigue. Lastly, it's therapeutic for high blood pressure. Of course, it's called the dolphin pose because of the sinewy wave-like nature of the pose and the fusiform streamlined dolphin body and movements. 

Dolphins are one of Earth's smartest life forms. They are also known for their pure altruistic behaviour, practicing not just reciprocal kin-related acts, but selfless acts for all life. Methinks these two go together... :-3   

Plow pose
The Plow pose (halasana) increases overall flexibility, but it’s particularly effective for relieving tension in the upper back and shoulders; especially after you’ve been with the relatives for over two days... 

The pose gets its name from the plow, used to prepare the soil for sowing crops. Like the plow, the pose prepares the body and the mind for deep rejuvenation. Besides strengthening and opening the neck, shoulders, abs and back muscles, the plow helps calm the nervous system and reduces stress and fatigue. It stimulates the thyroid gland and strengthens the immune system. 

Toulouse does the Cobra pose
Here's the Cobra, one of my favourite positions. This asana resembles a serpent with its hood raised; hence the name of the pose. The cobra pose does tons of good things like toning and strengthening the superficial and deep muscles of the back and abdominal regions. The pose reduces stress and fatigue and is a useful pose for people with respiratory disorders like asthma (don't practice the pose during an attack, though!). 

The cobra also increases backward bending flexibility--something a cat like me does lots--and it relieves tension, especially in the lower back. Good for after you've been shovelling the driveway...     

Toulouse does the Locust pose
The Locust (Salabhasana) is a backward bending exercise that increases flexibility of the upper back and strengthens the lower back  and upper leg muscles. 

Holding the pose also massages the internal organs and makes them frisky—which you will be too; good for combating the “big meal” doldrums. The pose relieves fatigue, flatulence, constipation, indigestion and lower-back pain.

The locust, or grasshopper, is a springy kind of creature, so the pose is well named for the "springy" energy it provides. 

Toulouse doing the Camel pose

The Camel pose (Ustrasana) I’m doing here…well, I might have gotten carried away… lets you exercise all your back muscles and extends your spinal column by bending your back fully. It’s useful for increasing spinal and hip flexibility. The camel pose helps relieve respiratory ailments, mild backache, fatigue and anxiety. 

Doing this pose also helps improve your posture! Just in time for all those Christmas pictures with family and friends... 

Toulouse does the Spinal Twist
Here I am doing the Spinal Twist, which stretches the spine and helps the vertebrae regain their mobility. The roots of the spinal nerves and the nervous system get toned and provided with increased blood supply.

This pose will make your back feel sensational! It relieves tension and elongates the spine, which also improves posture (for all those pictures!) and improves breathing. Lastly, the spinal twist helps you digest that huge Christmas dinner, dessert and midnight snack by helping ... well ... move things along. It'll have you twisting and shouting with the joy of the season. Meow! :-3

You need a lot of strength, flexibility and concentration to
Toulouse does the Peacock ... well, sort of...
do the Peacock (mayurasana). As you can see, I have a lot of it! When the pose is held, your elbows press into the abdominal region, drawing fresh blood to the area and nourishing your internal organs. If you watched the movie, The Edge of Tomorrow, this is the pose that the Tom Cruise character finds soldier Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) performing. It's not unlike flying; there you are, balancing on your hands with legs stretched out, head and body lifted, defying gravity. The peacock pose not only resembles the peacock; it also invokes the peacock's special powers.  

Toulouse does the Final Relaxation
Did you know that in Hindu lore, the peacock symbolizes immortality and love?

Last but certainly not least, is the Final Relaxation, my favorite part and I do it well, as you can see… Relaxation is important because it leaves you with a calm mind and relaxed muscles. It allows the body to absorb the energy released by the asanas. You need to relax this way for at least five minutes. I’m so good at it that I do it for … well, hours.

Have a safe, joyous and meaningful “giving season”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Peace on Earth, good will to all Life.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Flight

Who’s seen “Up in the Air” with George Clooney (who makes Nina’s heart go pitter patter)? It’s about a man whose business has him constantly travelling and living his life out of a suitcase in apparent bliss.

All in all, it’s a cynical man’s take on travelling. Sure, it served as a good metaphor for the journey of life, and as such made some good commentary on life-values (though I’m not sure how much Nina got out of the story—she watched the entire film on the plane without any sound. She didn’t care; she got what she wanted…). And lots of what Clooney’s character shared with his apprentice made sense for efficient travel. But, travelling doesn’t have to be so hard-boiled. So mechanically efficient.

And, if you’ve seen the movie and how it ends, this is not the most satisfactory way to travel. When it comes to travel, efficiency shouldn’t take precedence over fun. Remember, fun is always at the root of a favorably memorable trip. I’m the cool travel cat, after all, the wizard of travelling. The master of the journey. So, let me share with you what I’ve learned…

Nina and I travel a lot, whizzing from one side of the country to the other or to exotic places abroad, by plane by car by boat or even on tender foot and paw…We’ve caught flights from the airport at totally uncivilized hours, when nothing—not even the Starbucks—was open. We’ve weathered day-long delays—and not just because of weather. One flight in Tanzania didn’t go until enough people signed up to fully populate the plane! Ok… just kidding, well, sort of. We’ve slept on airport benches using Nina’s carry-on as a foot stool. We’ve gotten lost going from one terminal to another and then back again, when the plane decided to dock at another gate—just for the heck of it (I’m sure they have hidden cameras broadcasting the mad scurry of harried travelers to some planet in the Omega system). We’ve been searched and scanned while the officials laughed (ok, Nina was telling them a joke; she was rejecting rule number one again—never smile or cavort with officials who have power over you. At the age of 50+ she’s still amazingly naïve—maybe that’s why I like her so much… :-3 ).
Ok, I promised you some tips on how to enjoy your travels to the fullest, from airport to airport—what you do after you get to your destination is up to you. Well, actually, I have something to say about that too, but that’s a whole other post.

Getting the most out of your travels is a little like magic. It combines safety and security-smarts with having fun. The magic comes in how you mix these, so you don’t sink into the sweaty doldrums of paranoia on the one hand or get into trouble with security and miss your flight altogether on the other (I have stories about that too, actually—not the end of the world…). Here are some “Toulouse Rules” (well, “Toulouse Guidelines”, then): 

  •           Dress comfortably so your body can relax. Leave those two-inch stilettos at home or in your checked baggage. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes, in case the unmentionable happens and you find yourself racing down the hallway to catch a tight connection. When your body is relaxed then your mind relaxes too. You’re less likely to get flustered and piss off airport officials this way. There is such a thing as being too relaxed, though. On a flight to Halifax from Dulls Washington, Nina lost track of time over a lively breakfast chat and missed her flight by 2 minutes. The up-side was that she wasn’t penalized and was able to rebook a flight next day, relaxed in a wonderful hotel and had one of the best experiences in what became a leisurely trip.
  •       Travel safe and travel smart. Be aware of your stuff. Be smart about keeping your stuff near you, with you and on you at all times. Part of having the freedom of having fun is to make sure you and your stuff are safe. Once they are safe, you can relax and enjoy your surroundings. Part of this is to be organized about where your various important items are housed. Keep your precious things close to you, preferably on you, and your travel documents (like passport, boarding pass) even closer. Have a designated place for each of these and preferably use the same traveling bag. This will establish an inner-safety net for you so that you can be smart, safe and relax at the same time. It’s a little like Tai-Chi: achieving a fine balance of relaxed-tension that lets you focus outward and enjoy the road ahead. :-3
  •       Give yourself enough time to check in, get your bags checked and go through security, but also to relax at the airport bar. Now, you might laugh at the last part, but I’m not kidding. Airports are places too and each one has character (usually associated with the place). I enjoy lingering at airports. They serve as true gateways to world travelers and provide wonderful opportunities to meet interesting people in a relaxed setting. Sometimes this is only the bartender or waitress, but they are people too, and locals who can often share some information gems you’d never find in the local travel brochure. Nina really knows how to work a place. She usually parks at the bar, where people are more likely to chat, and brings her “cute” tools: her highly popular notebook computer and ME, both of which are guaranteed to elicit conversation. :-3  So, come early and enjoy the airport. It’s a place too. For instance, Nina has her favorite airports and so do I. Nina really likes O’Hare Airport in Chicago and John F. Kennedy in New York City. She tells me that they scintillate with energy and the bustle of world travelers. I’m partial to the cosmopolitan energy of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and the spacious and more relaxed airports of Orlando, FL and Phoenix, Arizona.
  •       Pay attention to airport layout and practice. When you do, you soon recognize familiar paradigms and systems that most airports share. This can range from terminal location for airlines to dining places, signage to bathrooms. Knowing your way around an airport—even if you’ve never been there—is not just the mark of a seasoned traveler but the sign of someone who is truly enjoying every aspect of their journey.
  •       Enjoy the ride, every part of it. A wise man in India once told me that the key to happiness is simple: “choose to be happy.” Yup. That simple. Choose to enjoy every aspect of the journey, even the “humdrum” part of it; and I mean the security line ups and searches, body scans, delays, gate changes, etc. By adopting this attitude, you tend to relax, focus on the adventure and open yourself to experience. Ironically, people will react differently to you. They will treat you as an explorer and respect you as a person, because you’ve compelled them to see you as one. Believe me, this works. I’ve seen Nina in action time and again. I don’t know how she gets away with it all, but next thing I knew, one customs official was singing her a song he’d written; at the body scan, she attracted a whole pod of security people and even held up the line, as they eagerly shared her pictures, her writing and me! Now, I happen to know that it was partly because she chose not to see their rifling through her stuff as an invasion but an opportunity to share. :-3 … Which leads me to…
  •      Take it all as it comes and open yourself to the experience. Here are my last two cents—well two dollars, then—on Toulouse’s Zen of Travelling. You might call me an existentialist. I’m the cool travel cat and I believe that everything has a purpose and what happens to us—how we react and what we create—is all part of our realizable path. So, when you miss that critical flight or get lost in a strange city or end up stranded in some foreign airport or ferry terminal, open yourself to the experience that you weren’t expecting. The likelihood is that you are about to have the adventure of a lifetime, the one you were meant to have. On our last trip through Detroit, we ended up “stranded” at the bar of the Westin Hotel at the airport (sad, but true :-3). One over-coiffed lady swept in like a winter storm, wailing, “They’ve got snow-hurricanes in Pennsylvania!” (her home). She was beside herself (well, I could practically see her twin there) and paced the bar, looking for sympathy—and, I think, on some level enjoying the attention . Next thing you know the whole bar was buzzing with what a “snow-hurricane” was. Another time Nina and I were stranded at the Halifax Airport due to Hurricane Bill. We just hunkered down at a hotel and enjoyed the fierce winds from our comfortable sanctuary inside, drinking the local beer. “Accidents” are often moments of opportunity. If you see them that way, you are a true explorer of the strange and new. And isn’t that what every traveler ultimately strives for?

 Okay… so go out there and travel! And tell them that Toulouse sent you! :-3

Tags: Toulouse LeTrek, travelling, travel, world travel, flying, traveling by plane, jet-travel, travel safety, travel tips, fun travel

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Go to the Hot House Café For the Love of Garlic

roasted garlic
The Bard said it himself: “I’d rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill, than feed on cakes…”

When Shakespeare wrote that line, was he tapping into an age-old alchemy wisdom or was he just being ornery about the habits of the aristocracy? Either way, I must agree with him. Which is why I was at the Hot House Café on Church and Front Streets in Toronto a few days ago. They are celebrating the Garlic Festival there until the end of the month and if you are a garlic lover or a Romanian like my friend Nina (which is the same thing), then you will wish to mosey over there for a real treat!

Just don’t play a game of squash right after—unless you intend to win by default, that is, you stinker! (meow)…

The café features a varied menu of exotic dishes enriched with garlic. Dishes include, among others:
·       Fusilli Salsicce: tender fusilli, tossed with Italian garlic sausage, leek, rapini, roasted garlic, sundried tomato and roasted garlic tomato basil sauce.

·       Roasted Garlic Penne: fresh cremini mushrooms, green peas, and prosciutto simmered with roasted garlic and rich Alfredo suase then tossed with penne and topped with parmesan.

·       Grilled Garlic Sirloin “Rubio”: 8 oz New York, char-grilled to order, marinated in garlic and pepper, topped with a sauce of sliced garlic, butter, fresh oregano and basil, and served with a medley of steamed vegetables and your choice of HotHouse fries, baked potato, rice pilaf or leek and chive mashed.

·       Barramundi: lightly floured and pan seared barramundi filet topped with a roasted garlic Bernaise butter, served with steamed vegetables and choice of HotHouse fries, baked potato, rice pilaf or leek and chive mashed.

·       Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic: supreme of chicken baked with garlic and finished on the grill. Topped with  a roasted garlic, tarragon, white wine and cream reduction. Served with steamed vegetables and your choice of HotHouse fries, baked potato, rice pilaf or leek and chive mashed.
Each dish comes with a whole bulb of roasted garlic cloves. These are exquisite! And simple to make: the tops of the cloves are exposed by cutting their tops, then lathered with olive oil and baked under tin foil for half an hour in a 400 degree oven. Voila! You then simply pop the cloves out of their little skins with a gentle squeeze of the paw and enjoy a truly sensual delight!

So, what is it about garlic that impels poets, philosophers and artists alike to extol its virtues? Gustave Coquiot wrote of garlic: “Garlic all powerful, marvelous seasoning, you impel, you cheer, you are the only condiment, you are the glorious one!” Those are strong sentiments, indeed!

Along with leeks and shallots, garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family and one of the world's most ancient cultivated plants. It was known in China over 6,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians used it for pregnancy tests and to cure headaches. The builders of the ancient pyramids ate garlic daily for enhanced endurance and strength. The Romans considered garlic an antidote to poisons, which were very popular in certain circles of the time.  Garlic was used by some as a love potion and by others as the opposite. The god Mercury gave Ulysses wild garlic to keep his men safe from the feminine charms and wiles of Circe. Garlic was used for centuries as protection against evil and was hung in doorways to ward off the demons and the dead. It figures centrally in ghost and vampire mythology. It’s name in Sanskrit means “Slayer of Monsters”.
roasted garlic in olive oil

Fantastic history aside, this powerful herb is now proven as a natural antibiotic. It promotes the well-being of the heart and immune systems with antioxidant properties and helps maintain healthy blood circulation by lowering blood pressure. Garlic can also enhance the body's immune cell activity. It reduces cholesterol and helps regulate blood sugar levels. And it's packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Garlic is one of the ten superstars for cancer-prevention, sharing this distinguished position with berries and citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, onions, green tea, omega 3 essential fatty acids, olive oil, tomatoes, soy products, red wine and dark chocolate. Meow! I like that list! 

For some cool and surprising garlic home remedies go to this site:

Oh by the way … if you are a cat NOT of the stuffed variety, don’t partake: garlic and onions are toxic to cats and dogs. I'm the cool travel cat... :-3

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Toronto Adventures: The McMichael Art Gallery and the Group of Seven in Kleinburg

Jack Pine by Tom Thompson
Are these new Canadian painters crazy?—Augustus Bridle, Canadian Courier 1920

I was looking for adventure off the typical tourist route and borrowed a ride north on Islington Avenue all the way to the village of Kleinburg, about 50 km northwest of Toronto. This charming tourist destination forms a pleasant lacework of outdoor cafés, bistros, and ice cream parlors guaranteed to taunt, titillate and treat. I decided to taste my way along Main Street, ambling from café to gift shop and café again.

The village nestles amid rolling hills between two branches of the Humber River and is surrounded by agricultural land. John Kline, a German/Canadian settler, founded Kleinburg, which translates to "small town." In truth, Kleinburg could equally be named after its landscape (in which case it would have to be spelled "Kleinberg" for “small mountain"). Kleinburg’s annual fall festival called Binder Twine has its roots in the town’s agricultural history and draws 25,000 people each year. The village has attracted many affluent visitors and residents, including Canadian author Pierre Burton and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Kleinburg is also the home of Toronto International Film Studios and a popular location for shooting films and TV shows.

On the south end of town I steered off Main Street along a winding road through lush forest to the cloistered McMichael Art Gallery. The gallery is devoted to Canadian art and is the spiritual home of the Group of Seven. It was founded by Robert and Signe McMichael, who began collecting paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries in 1955.
Mountain by Lawren Harris

I entered the high-ceilinged lobby where master native carver Don Yeomans had created an eclectic totem pole entitled “Where Cultures Meet”. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that he’d carved a laptop as the “foundation” of the totem.

Whiskers tingling, I passed the glass doors into the Group of Seven exhibit and stilled my breaths: I was in the presence of magnificence. There they were: the sweeping, bold strokes of Lawren S. Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson. 

Red Maple by Lawren Harris
The Group of Seven contributed significantly to the identity of “Canadian Art” during the early 20th Century. They clearly helped define the Canadian “persona” and its rugged landscape when their “exotic” art exploded to equal applause and condemnation in a May 1920 exhibit in Toronto—not unlike the reception received by the French Impressionists in the late 19th Century when their art first appeared in Paris. The Group was initially drawn together by a common sense of frustration with the conservative and imitative quality of most Canadian art at the time. 

As with the European fin de siècle symbolists and post-impressionists, the Group rebelled against the constraints of 19th-century naturalism in Canada.  Just as with the Impressionists before them, The Group shifted their emphasis from the conservative imitation of the natural towards the expression of their feelings for the natural.

Sunset by Frank Johnston
The Group of Seven blended the palettes of Art Nouveau, Neo-Impressionism, and Fauvism into a genuine celebration of the unique Canadian wilderness. It was a kind of “primitive” style that matched the equally primitive landscape they had chosen to capture. 

They used broad brush strokes with liberal application of paint to portray the wild beauty and vibrant color of the Ontario landscape. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the art of Tom Thomson, who died in 1917 (before the inaugural Group of Seven exhibit) but who has remained synonymous with the Group of Seven. An avid outdoorsman, Thompson incited A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley and Arthur Lismer, to paint the unkempt and unruly part of Canada with bold displays of feeling.

With time, Harris, MacDonald, Carmichael and even Varley simplified their colors and layouts, using thin pigment and stylized designs. By the mid-1920s Harris had simplified his paintings into monochromatic forms and ventured into abstraction soon after.

I celebrated my tour of the Group of Seven with a fine lunch on the patio of the Gallery Café, where
Toulouse discusses good food with Sayima
waiter Sayima Kaya served me a tender and flavorful maple-pommery glazed Atlantic salmon, served on buttery mashed potatoes and garnished with roasted green beans.

I selected a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, whose intense aroma and sparkling taste of Golden Delicious apples danced a wonderful tango with the wild salmon dish.

From the gallery, I strolled along Main Street and something made me stop at Desserts of Distinction. Well!... Of course, my superior nose and whiskers had steered me right. Maria Montinaro, the owner of the café, served me a decent Americano and a raspberry and chocolate mousse tart with cassis (blackberry) nappage gélatine. 

The Black currant topping was drizzled with white chocolate drops and fresh berries. I sipped my Americano and savoured the cassis tart, which had my whiskers stand on end. The tart was not overly sweet, which allowed the vivacious notes of black currant and fresh raspberry to emerge through the creamy chocolate. 

Kleinburg in the summer
The chocolate mousse tart was only one of many delectable pastries, tarts and pies offered at Desserts of Distinction.

All in all, a fine day was had in Kleinburg! Come for yourself and see. And tell them Toulouse sent you!
Toulouse beside himself...