For the past 6 months, I have had a little golden packet of a special spice called saffron staring back at me from my kitchen cabinet. Saffron has a complex flavor that is often used in French bouillabaisse, Spanish paella, Milanese risotto, and many Middle Eastern dishes. I called it a “special” spice because not only is it quite pricey, but a little goes a long way when it comes to Saffron’s audacious effects on the palette.
Good news for all you natural remedy lovers out there! According to my girl Oprah, a 2008 study found that 76% of women who took daily saffron supplements reported a 50% drop in PMS symptoms like mood swings and fatigue (your welcome, in advance to the men in our lives). The spice has also been linked to the alleviation of mild to moderate depression. According to another study, saffron supplements were as effective as a common antidepressant in reducing symptoms related to depression.
This taste tantalizing and feel-good spice met its maker last weekend when I decided to dust off my dutch oven and get back to my bread baking roots. It all started because I realized I was in need of some bread to accompany two upcoming recipes–my meatless Monday Sweet Potato Bean Burgers with Maple Chipotle Mayo, and my slow-cooker Tuscan Lentil, Barley, and Kale Soup. Rather than running out to the store for a pre-made loaf, I got out my flours and yeast and got to cooking. I’ve been enjoying the bread for the last week and saved half in the freezer for when my schedule gets hectic with work travel. Give it a go and add a little something “special” to your sandwich or soup entree.
Saffrom Fennel Bread
What You’ll Need:
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tbs active dry yeast (or one packet)
1 tablespoon raw cane or coconut sugar
2 cups unbleached, bread flour (plus a little more for kneading)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tbs kosher salt
1 tbs whole fennel seeds
1/8 tsp ground saffron
1/4 cup cornmeal (for coating)
How to Make It:
In a large bowl, mix water, yeast, and sugar. Add 1 cup of bread flour and stir until blended. Wait 5 minutes.
Once the mixture is slightly foamy, add salt, fennel seeds (crushing them lightly in your hand as you sprinkle them in), and saffron, and stir to blend. Add remaining cup of bread flour and all the whole wheat flour, little by little. Mix the dough until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon.
Place your dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead with your hands, adding additional bread flour when the dough gets too sticky. Knead until dough is smooth and consistent in texture, about 8-10 minutes.
Place dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size (approx. 1 hour).
Dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Punch down the dough while still in its bowl, then form it into a firm ball and set on baking sheet. Cover with a dry cloth and let rise again until doubled in size (approx. 1 hour).
About 40 minutes into the second hour, preheat the oven to 400°F with your dutch oven inside.
20 minutes after preheating, give your dough a good coating of cornmeal allover, then place it in the center of your (hot!) dutch oven. Bake bread covered for about 35 minutes, then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set on a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
Though it feels like spring here in DC, the summer is still upon us. Summer is the perfect time for backbending postures like full wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) which require warm muscles and an open mind. Backbends are intended to broaden and expand the chest and rib cage to enhance the body’s ability to perform breathwork (pranayama).Backbends can be exciting and empowering. They can also, however, be intimidating and scary. If backbends are not a freeing experience for you, your approach—both mentally and physically—may need some fine tuning.
When performed correctly, backbends increase your range of motion. Many of us spend hours upon hours sitting—and let’s be honest, most of us don’t have the best posture when doing so. As a result, we lose a few degrees of the normal curve in our lumbar (lower) spine. That curve is part of our natural architecture as bipeds, distinctly purposed to provide us humans with the ability to carry our own body weight without damaging our joints and overall health. When we lose that gentle arch in the lower back we increase our likelihood of lower back, hip and knee pain because we aren’t properly stacked to handle our body’s mass as it moves through space.
Backbends help counter our daily damage by increasing extension and restoring that lumbar curve. They have also been linked to arthritis prevention, increased stamina and energy, depression relief, and improved lung capacity, circulation and digestion. On a more emotional level, many practitioners believe that backbends help them let go of the past and focus on the present, and open their heart when fear has taken it hostage.
Whether you’re looking to improve your emotional or physical health—or both for that matter!—look no further than yoga backbends. From the milder baby cobra and sphinx poses to the more intense camel and king pigeon poses, there is a backbend for every level.
If you fall into that “intimidated/scared” category when it comes to attempting backbends, here are a few helpful hints to do them the right way:
Warm up your body! A few Sun As and Bs should do the trick. The key is to move the body in ways that open the chest, hip flexors, quads and hips.
Focus on maintaining length in the front body. True, backbends increase extension in the lower back but people have a tendency to collapse in these poses, crunching the lumbar spine. To avoid back pain, focus on keeping a broad chest and long front body, and bending from the middle and upper back instead of hinging from your sacrum.
Don’t squeeze your booty. Squeezing the muscles of your rear end counteracts internal rotation of the hips which is essential in all backbends to avoid compression of the spine. When you activate your gluteus maximus, your hips externally rotate causing your knees to splay wide. To develop the muscle memory needed to encourage internal rotation of the hips, squeeze a block between your thighs when practicing full wheel, camel, and other belly-up backbends.
Breathe. Fear can be paralyzing in a backbend and the more you resist the more likely you are to tense the muscles that lead to compression and ultimately discomfort. When going into backbends, focus on your breath and allow your mind to calm down and enjoy all the goodness a backbend can bring.
Just a quick note of caution (safety first!): If you have any back issues, please consult with your yoga instructor and doctor before performing any backbends.