In the Kitchen with The Mindful Equestrian

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Recently I had the great pleasure of cooking with my friend and neighbor Lisa Eklund, equestrian and life coach and author of The Mindful Equestrian blog. Lisa posts pictures of some nutritious and delicious-looking recipes on her Facebook page, so I asked her if she’d like to share one with us and serve up some conversation about mindfulness along with it. She happily agreed. We settled on her Crockpot Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries.

Not everyone has heard of mindfulness, so in a nutshell, it’s a mental practice of tuning into what you’re sensing and feeling — experiencing the moment, instead of mentally being in the future or the past. With roots in Buddhist meditation, it has become popular in the US in recent years through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program which he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Similar to meditation or prayer practiced in many religions, it has been shown through thousands of studies to be beneficial for both physical and mental health.

Practicing mindfulness while doing the small everyday tasks of life, like cooking, is a good way to improve the skill. Lisa took up her new vegetable peeler and got right to work. 

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“I tried to peel the squash with my old peeler,” she said, “but it didn’t work well and I felt so frustrated.” By way of helping me understand mindfulness, she explained that she could have stayed frustrated and even escalated the intensity, but she put mindfulness into practice instead. She tuned into her feelings and recognized there was a problem to be solved.

She looked up peelers on Amazon and thanks to the reviews decided on the OXO Good Grips Pro Swivel Peeler. She happily discovered that it peels winter squash and apples better than any other peeler she’s ever used.

I understand the concept (of mindfulness), but I fall off it more than not. It takes practice being with how you feel and what you’re doing in the moment.

With retirement from her post as an assistant professor of equine science at SUNY Morrisville coming up in May, Lisa is putting together her more than 35 years of experience working as an equestrian performance coach and a hunter/jumper clinician and trainer with her recent life coaching certification to begin a new career. She earned her certification online from International Coach Academy studying with other students from all over the world.

Mindful of Our Choices

One of the concepts of mindfulness she writes about on her blog is the idea that we all have the freedom to choose how we deal with our problems. If we’re frustrated or angry, we can choose to let it ruin our whole day or instead see the situation as a challenge and come up with a solution. Lisa recently posted an article with an example from her own daily life. She chose to solve a problem instead of being annoyed by it, which led to more solutions than she expected.

We ruin our days. Nothing else does that. Things happen, but we choose to handle it or let it ruin our day. We can choose peace.

Lisa said she’s been reading about advances in neuroscience that show we can change our brains with the choices we make on a regular basis.

We can rewire our brains at any time. We’re not really stuck or bound by how we’ve been up to now.

Coaching with Questions

As a life coach, Lisa is trained to ask the right questions to help her clients find their own solutions to get out of places in life where they’re stuck. She’ll also provide accountability to help them accomplish their planned solutions.

I don’t give advice on how to solve something. I get you to think and figure out what you want. Then, when you have an action plan, I’ll provide accountability for you to do it.

For years, Lisa has been doing just that in the riding arena. One of her favorite questions to ask her students riding around the jumps is, “What went right?”

“That surprises students,” she said. “They tend to notice what went wrong.” She sends them back around the jumps the next time being mindful of what they’re doing well.

Returning to our cooking project, Lisa picked up her Oneida Ceramic Utility Knife, another one of her favorite kitchen tools. “I like this knife because it’s very sharp and not too long,” she explained. She said she finds peeling the hard winter squash makes it a lot easier to cut up into pieces.

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Lisa shared another cooking problem solver too. She uses a melon baller instead of a spoon to carve the stringy seedy part out of the squash. It’s sharper than a spoon and clears the squash out quickly.

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On to the apples, Lisa uses her favorite peeler and knife again.

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After giving the squash a one-hour head start in the crockpot, she adds all the other ingredients and sets it on high to cook for four more hours. When it’s finished cooking, she mashes it with a potato masher, and it’s ready to serve.

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Crockpot Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries

Ingredients
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2-3 apples
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup water
Instructions
  1. Peel butternut squash and cut into pieces.
  2. Cook in crockpot on high 1 hour.
  3. Peel apples and cut into pieces.
  4. Add apples and all other ingredients to squash in crockpot.
  5. Cook on high 4 hours.
  6. Mash with potato masher when done.

“I always liked cooking,” Lisa said. “And retiring is giving me more time for it. For years, I worked weekends at horse shows and ate convenience foods for lack of time. Now that I’ve made the choice to make less money, I’m cooking more which saves money, improves my health and gives me a chance to be creative.”

Lisa gave me some of the finished product to take home. It’s delicious! The apples and cranberries add a sweetness and zing to the butternut squash. I think my family is going to love it when I bring this to our Thanksgiving feast.

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