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Begin Within Monthly Journal

& Favorite Easy Meals

October 2015; Letter 11

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costa rican style


It’s been a busy month and therefore not many new posts here at Begin Within. A few days ago we got back from Costa Rica, where we spent three nights at a five star resort in the rainforests near the Arenal Volcano- which we highly recommend it if you are ever in that area. Contrary to typical experience, the resort is far nicer than what the photos show- followed by six days near the beach in Playa Grande, near Tamarindo.


It was offseason in Costa Rica which meant that a lot of businesses were closed, but the flip side was that there weren’t any crowds and the weather was more overcast and rainy than during peak season. When the equatorial sun did come out full strength it was scorching hot. Even an hour in the sun was enough to turn white tourists beet red.


Speaking of which, the BEST sunburn treatment is to apply lemon juice to the skin soon after exposure (at least that evening before bed). I’ve written about the power of lemon juice for the skin before and am constantly amazed at how few people know about it. No, it doesn’t sting or burn, unless you have an open cut. Even then, just dab it dry with a towel and the stinging subsides.


As I discovered, lime juice works equally as well. (Costa Rica only had limes… Argentina only has lemons.) Just put it all over your skin, let it dry and go to bed. Continue every night until you no longer have any pink skin and you won’t even peel. Works great for the gradual reduction of things like age spots as well.


We all know to put lemon juice on freshly cut vegetables to prevent oxidation—  it’s rather logical that it works to prevent damage to our skin too.



I can’t report great things about the food in Costa Rica. We had some good meals, but nothing to write home about. The best dishes we ate were the ‘comida tipica’ (traditional food) of Costa Rica, especially the ‘platanos’ and ‘gallo pinto’. (Oh, and the tropical fruit is incredible!)


Platanos, called plantains in the US, are one food item I’ve often wished we had in Argentina. They look like huge bananas, but are more starchy than regular bananas which makes them perfect for cooking. One can either let them ripen until the skins turn black for tender and moist fried sweet platanos…



or smash green slices and fry them for a more crispy version (called ‘patacones’ in Costa Rica).



Which reminds me… When we visited Fiji, some 20-odd years ago, a local gave us some platanos and told us to boil them whole in the skin. They turned out delicious, no oil or frying required.


I love all types of cooked plantains and ate them every chance I had. I also indulged in platano chips, which are like potato chips but made with thinly sliced plantains. Most probably wouldn’t consider them health food, but they sure are tasty ;)


The other traditional food, called ‘gallo pinto’, is the Costa Rican version of rice and beans and apparently is their national dish. It’s a mildly flavored ‘dirty’ rice with kidney beans. Gallo pinto is especially good with fried eggs, which I had daily for breakfast during our resort stay (with sweet fried platanos on the side).




videos on the go


Before our trip I downloaded a bunch of videos to my husband’s iPad. It’s a great way to pass the time on long flights and waiting in airports. (It took us 33 hours door-to-door on our return.) I had found a list of the 20 most watched TED talks and downloaded most of them to go.


If you haven’t seen the top TED talks, they are all wonderful in different ways. Some have really stuck with me. The whole TED talk concept is so cool. No need to fly around the world attending conferences to hear the latest, greatest, and most innovative ideas and people....Just click and watch wherever you are.


By the way, if you're wondering how to download videos to your iPad or iPhone (for viewing when you don’t have wifi), there’s an app called iCab Mobile which allows you to download videos and save them in an album in Photos. It’s a web browser app, which you can also use for many things (like Safari).


To download a video, open the desired page in the iCab browser.


With the TED talks you can just select the download option they provide.


Once the video shows as 100% downloaded in the iCab download file list, just click the title (in the list of completed downloads) and choose ‘Save File in Album’.


The photos app on your iPad/iPhone will create a video album and save all videos there for easy viewing later.


If you want to download a YouTube video, or any video from another site, navigate to that page in iCab and start the video playing. Once playing, press and hold directly on the video until a pop up menu appears with an option to download it. (Once downloading you don’t have to keep it playing.)


Then repeat the steps as above. After the file is completely downloaded, click the title in the iCab downloads history and choose ‘Save File in Album’.


When you want to watch it, just find the video file in your Photos video album.



thoughts on tony robbins... and peace


I also downloaded a few Anthony Robbins videos. Watching his TED talk (from the top 20 list, above) brought him back onto my radar. I hadn’t really been aware of Tony Robbins since about the mid 90s when I read his third book, Awaken the Giant Within. I recall some techniques I learned from that book. In particular I remember him discussing ways to change memories, to reprogram thought patterns.


Say you have a negative image replaying over and over and in your mind. An easy example would be an athlete. Envision a skier who took a bad run and got hurt. Now they are having trouble coming back to competition because they play the fall over and over in their head. (It could be anything though; a fight, an embarrassing moment, even projecting a fearful scenario onto the future.)


Now, Tony Robbins might have the person play the scene back but in reverse, and then scramble and distort it, inserting odd, incongruous, or silly things until the original memory is so changed that it can hardly be recalled correctly anymore. Another version would be to imagine a huge mental eraser just wiping clean the memory. Seems simple, but it can be highly effective at breaking a negative mental loop.


Tony Robbins’ focus has always been on helping people by teaching them to take charge of their minds and their lives. He is the original ‘life coach’ and has worked with people from all walks of life, from large seminars with 4000+ people, to Wall Street moguls, top athletes (Serena Williams), politicians (Mitt Romney) and big Hollywood names (Hugh Jackman, Brett Ratner). There are some great clips on YouTube where he helps everyday people save relationships, get over a lifetime of stuttering, etc. He has had a series on Oprah as well.


Tony Robbins has always been an impressive and charismatic figure; though watching him again after 20 years, I would say he has become more effective and well-rounded.


Anyhow, in the TED talk he mentions an experience he had at one of his workshops on 9/11. (I should note here that his TED talk doesn’t really do him justice. In my opinion it is rushed and bit scattered.)


I tracked down the video that condenses that one day of the seminar (one day of his five day workshop in Hawaii) when the twin towers were hit. It’s almost 2 hours long, but very interesting and moving.


At the end he has one person who represents the Jewish community and one who represents the Palestines on stage together.


There are lot of takeaways, but the thing I enjoyed most was the technique used called Indirect Negotiation. This has any person in conflict find the answers to the questions and the resolution to the problem within themselves. This is something we can all use, with or without other people. Everything we need is within us. Every ‘problem’ comes with the answer. There is no separation between the two, if you can just learn how to access the information when you need it.


If you want to check out the video, click here.



Also, on the topic of healing conflict, this is a great little piece. A restaurant in Israel offering 50% discount to Arabs and Jews who will eat their meal together.


World peace cannot exist without each one of us first finding inner peace, followed by peace in our closest relationships, families, immediate circles, and then direct communities. It is illogical to think we can battle our spouse and coworkers and then somehow create 'world peace'. As they sang, we are the world.


Permanent personal peace is not elusive… once you know where to look for it. I’ll give you a hint—  it isn’t ‘out there’.


Tying back into my long journal from last month, I obviously focus a lot on self responsibility and solving problems from within. But often when I discuss with others the concept that everything is my responsibility, and my experience is ultimately a reflection of me… people balk at the idea because of the assumed guilt. If they are responsible then they must be to blame.


I recently came across a great line that perfectly sums up what I really mean. Responsibility without blame. I would say that is one fundamental law of the ‘universe’. I am responsible for what goes on in my own mind, how that affects my experience, and by extension the experience of others. But there is no blame. Of that I am certain.


It’s hard to explain succinctly how I know that so clearly, because I realize it runs counter to what the world seems to demonstrate. Plus, others have explained it better than I ever could. And the 'knowing' I'm talking about doesn't come from an intellectual discussion or a book. Some might call it ‘divine experience’, but it is possible for each and every one of us to experience the truth of what really is... which holds little in common with what we experience in our day to day lives.


Speaking ‘practically’, in a way we can all understand right now, there is a simple reminder that helps me stay on track in my life. I am either moving towards peace or away from it. And peace for others is peace for me, as peace for me is peace for others.


Eventually, it is inevitable, we will all end up at the truth. It just might take a little longer for some than others.


And because I’m still catching up from being away, I’ll keep it relatively brief this month. As always, see below for some favorite easy meal recipes and ideas. And stay tuned for new recipe posts in the coming weeks.


With besos!






October 2015 Favorite Easy Meals


With many of you already into Fall (though here it’s heating up and is definitely Spring), I thought I’d share a couple of cozy favorites that make a full dinner plus delicious leftovers for lunch.


To begin, cook up a pot of my Vegan French Onion Soup or Perfect Pumpkin Soup for dinner.


Then for lunch, reheat leftovers adding some leftover rice and lentils to the soup. As it heats up the rice absorbs some of the liquid to make a satisfying meal. (You decide how thick or soupy you like it.) And the rice and lentil combo adds a protein boost.





(I LOVE these for lunch. Both are great at room temperature too, for those in warmer climates.)


As for lentils, I recommend cooking your own. They taste so much better than canned, and are way faster to boil than beans. Make a pot and use them throughout the week in other recipes, such as Meatless Meatloaf and in the leftover lunch ideas above. For another lentil recipe, try out this easy and beautiful recipe for Roasted Eggplant & Lentil Stacks...



Roasted Eggplant & Lentil Stacks with The Best Easy Tomato Sauce Ever



This is one of those meals that’s so simple that I make in on weeknights, but tastes so gourmet you could confidently serve it for a fancy feast. It also happens to be vegan, gluten free and grain free. Though don’t hold that against it.

These veggie stacks taste rich enough for a five star meal. The recipe is also incredibly flexible and can be adapted to the season and whatever fresh ingredients you find at the market.


It might seem like a lot of steps, but once you get everything going there’s very little active time involved. This is a recipe that it pays to make extra of. Each ingredient can be used a variety of ways in leftovers or in other recipes.


I find that lentils or white beans are best here. You can use the white beans whole or pureed, but I’d only recommend using them if they are really tasty. To learn how to make white beans taste great (versus blah), click here. In theory you could use canned lentils, but please only do so if they taste yummy, which I have never found in a can of lentils.


The ingredients in this recipe are few, and the quality and freshness of each one really counts. Besides, lentils are easy to cook for optimal flavor and texture. See the recipe below for simple instructions.


I used brown lentils. They are the only kind of lentil we get here in Argentina; apart from the red Turkish lentils (which aren’t suitable in this recipe because they dissolve when cooked). I’m sure some French green lentils, black lentils, or other variety that stays whole when cooked would also work well here.


I used arugula to make the salad base for my dinner. I put my husband’s on pasta with a couple handfuls of arugula. You could also use some brown rice if you like.


Another way to go is to use wilted spinach (drain well and add salt, lemon juice and olive oil before serving), or sauté some beet greens or chard until tender (I’d also add olive oil, salt and lemon here). In this case I'd incorporate the greens into the stacks. (For example… eggplant, greens, lentils, tomatoes, repeat.)


However you do it, it will be tasty ;)


The roasted tomato sauce could be used many ways. Feel free to blend it when done to make a smooth sauce. (See my falafel recipe for a creamy vegan version.)


I love how this ‘sauce’ is almost totally hands-off and ready to serve in 20 minutes, yet tastes like an Italian grandmother's recipe. Some might like to add garlic, though I prefer the roasted tomatoes super simple as noted below. I used half cilantro and half basil for the herbs, though you could use all of one or the other. You could also incorporate some fresh mint, rosemary, thyme, and/or red pepper flakes or hot pepper of choice.


If you eat dairy, some chévre on top would be a nice touch on these veggie stacks. Zucchini also makes a lovely version in place of, or along with, the eggplants.



Recipe for Lentil Eggplant Vegetable Stacks


Makes enough for at least two large servings. Why not make extra of everything though?... The eggplant and tomatoes are perfect as leftovers on sandwiches, salads, etc. The lentils make easy rice & lentil bowls for lunch, or will stand by to go in another dish such as vegetarian lentil loaf or soup.




2 large eggplants

2 cloves garlic- thinly sliced (plus 2 more whole cloves if cooking the lentils from scratch)

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup finely minced fresh herbs (I used cilantro and basil here)

1 cup +/- cooked brown lentils (see below for details on how to prepare them)

Fresh arugula- large stems removed, washed and spun (or greens of choice)



Fresh lemon juice

Olive oil




Prepare the lentils (makes about 4 cups)-

Wash 2 cups brown lentils and place in a large pot with at least twice as much water as lentils.

Add 1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or other), 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 whole (peeled) garlic cloves.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 30-45 minutes until tender (time varies depending on the lentils).

Taste a lentil and it should be tender to the tooth but still hold it’s shape (you don’t want to cook them to mush).

When done, turn off the heat, add two tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt (or more... until the lentils taste good).

Feel free to make ahead and refrigerate for about a week, freeze for future use, and/ or use immediately while warm.


Prepare the eggplant-

Heat oven to 400F (175C).

Wash the eggplant, cut off the ends, and slice into long strips or rounds about 1/4 inch thick.

Layer in a large baking pan as follows-

 Coat the pan with olive oil

 Add a layer of the eggplant strips or rounds

 Spread the thinly sliced garlic on top of this layer of eggplant

 Sprinkle generously with salt and drizzle generously with olive oil

 Add up to four more layers of eggplant, dressing each with salt and olive oil

Roast about 40-50 minutes in the hot oven, turning every 15 minutes or so until completely cooked.

(I use kitchen tongs to first flip the stacks in sections, then later to adjust the strips so each gets some exposure to the bottom of the pan for moisture and to the the top for browning.)

Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature while you roast the tomatoes.


Prepare the tomato ‘sauce'-

Put the whole cherry tomatoes on a baking tray with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Add some red pepper flakes (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) if you like a little spice.

Gently shake the tray to coat the tomatoes.

Place in the hot 400F (175C) oven for 15 minutes.

(Shake the pan again about halfway through for even cooking.)

Meanwhile, wash, spin, and finely chop the fresh herbs.

Add the herbs after the 15 minutes, combine well, and gently smash the tomatoes down with the back of the spoon.

Cook 5 more minutes.

Remove from oven, stir in a drizzle of fresh olive oil, add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, and use immediately.


Assemble the ‘stacks’-

On plates or in large flat bowls, start with a base of arugula (or alternate of choice) and pasta/rice, if using.

Dress the arugula with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice.

Layer 2-3 eggplant strips on the arugula/pasta/rice base.

Then add some lentils (drained of all water).

And some roasted tomatoes.



Serve while warm and enjoy!




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