Posted in A Day In the Life

In Praise of the Healthy Kitchen

Cooking is a sacred art to me.  It’s an act of love.  It’s a gratitude and awareness practice, that requires thoughtfulness and care in order to be done well.  I’m not looking for convenience in my kitchen as much as I’m looking for ways to celebrate the earth’s bounty and the gift of health.  That requires a little bit of slowing down so that I can enjoy the experience and process of creating a good meal.

Eating food is the single biggest chemical reaction that happens in your body in the course of the day.  If you want to demonstrate cause and effect to your self, nothing is more profound than the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  Eat carbs smothered in cheese with nary a vegetable in sight and chances are you are going to feel sluggish and achy.  Eat fresh food, prepared sanely (i.e. no deep fat frying or over cooking innocent vegetables), and you’re probably going to feel more alert and healthy.

The other day I was shopping at Central Market in Austin, and there was a table of fresh, local, organic tomatoes that made me realize that I don’t eat many raw veggies in the winter months.  I always feel more energized and focused when I’m eating a wide variety of veggies, especially raw ones.  So, I was inspired to buy ingredients for gazpacho. Gazpacho is a cold soup, usually eaten in the summer months.

Even though it’s February, I decided that the gazpacho would be a super-healthy breakfast for the coming week.  If you serve it with a half of an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, it’s the ultimate way to start a healthy day.  And here’s the magic of this soup with Spanish origins:  It’s a low-calorie, nutrition dense food, filled with fiber, minerals and anti-oxidants. No wonder I feel so great when I eat it.

Here’s how to make it:

Wash the following veggies and cut them into chunks:

2 sweet tomatoes                              2 carrots (don’t peel em)

1-2 green scallion                             3-4 stalks of celery

a cup or so of jicama                       7-8 mini-peppers in assorted colors

a handful of fresh parsley               1 unpeeled cucumber

In batches, pulverize everything in a food processor and transfer the pulverized veggies to a bowl. I use a Tupperware bowl with a lid because I’ll store it this way in the fridge.

When you have pulverized all the veggies, squeeze in ½ lime. The lime adds some flavor, but will also keep the gazpacho fresh tasting.

The final step is to pour a quart bottle of Knudsen’s Very Veggie over the pulverized vegetable mix and stir. I like the low sodium Very Veggie because vegetables naturally contain sodium, and you get a cleaner and more distinct flavor if you don’t over-salt.

Chunk up a half of an avocado and put it in a bowl. Ladle the soup over the avocado.  I have friends that like to add a dash of Tabasco.

For breakfast, I love to eat a bowl of this along with a hard-boiled egg on the side. It’s the complete meal – veggies, protein and a good fat.

The soup is best served chilled, but when I make a fresh batch, I just eat it at room temperature and it’s great.

Refrigerate the leftover gazpacho in a covered container.

When you cook for yourself, it’s an act of self-love.  When you cook for others it’s a celebration of life. 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

All In A Day’s Hike

Well-worn hiking resting in sunshine on rocky trail
A pair of well-worn hiking boots sit on a rock somewhere on a trail on a sunny summer’s day.

When I went down, I went down hard, the left side of my body taking the brunt of the fall.  Grateful for the pair of sunglasses, now scratched beyond repair, that protected my eye, I still hit hard enough that I will have a colorful shiner for about a week, not to mention the lump on my forehead.

I didn’t see the root that snaked its way across the trail, didn’t see that it was calling my name and just waiting for me. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t on the trail at all, but just jumped out in front of me at the last minute snatching my hiking boot in it’s nasty little teeth, causing me to fall. You think tree roots don’t have teeth? HA!

The long walk back to the car with Dean’s arm wrapped around my waist guiding me past other ill-intended roots and rocks helped me get back into my body, so I no longer felt like I was going to puke or pass out. Taking his husbandly advice to breathe, I’ll never underestimate the power of deep breathing again.

So, we made it home and I stood in the shower, soaping myself down, trying to get rid of the dirt and pebbles stuck in and to my skin.  Swollen face. Swollen shoulder. Swollen elbow and an awesome amount of road rash. Spray on Hydrogen Peroxide was no picnic, but hours later, the swelling started to subside. The road rash still burned like hell, and that shiner started turning a deep shade of purple.

What a blessing it is, to be active in my life. “I’m down, you stupid tree root, but I’m not out. I’ll see you again, on my terms!” I have no broken bones, and even though I’m sore all over, this morning the swelling has gone way down. I know that with a day or two of rest and I’ll be back to my old tricks again, though I think I should watch where I’m going.

In the meantime, I have a great excuse to curl up on the couch for the day, watching Home and Garden Television, in between naps. A little later I’ll soak in an Epson salts bath and begin plotting my revenge against that tree root!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Emotional Balancing Act and Other Musings on What’s Positive and What’s Not

iStock_000016138662XSmallThere are a lot of people and things about this life that are rasty—politicians and banks are my two personal favorites. I want to know what is going on in my world, my country and my community, still, I can’t take a steady diet of news feed. It makes me feel as though we have all gone mad. I cannot ignore these things either. Somewhere in the spongy corridors of my little brain, I have hope and vision. How can we possibly reach solutions to the challenges of our world if we are unaware, or worse, conveniently apathetic about the work of making the world a better place? I have met people who tell me that they never watch the news because they only want to accentuate the positive in their lives. What is positive about deliberately hiding your head in the sand?

I am not certain if “making the world a better place” is something that we are taught or if it’s something that rises up from within us. I don’t remember learning, or even making a decision about trying to leave the world better than I found it—it was just sort-of, kind-of, always with me and one day I woke up to it. Maybe it was the prayer that I was afraid of that acted as the alarm clock– the one where you ask: “please show me Your will and Your way,” and then hope that Greater will is something you actually want to do.

How are we in any position at all to determine or judge what is positive and what is negative in our emotional life or the life of humanity? We bandy about these words as if we knew what they imply– and the truth is, we often don’t. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, said, “when a thing happens, you don’t always know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.” I return to this quote again and again, because of its compassionate reach and reminder. We have all met someone who gets fired from a job and feels devastated. Then a year later they might say something like “getting fired from that old job was the best thing that ever happened to me.” When a thing happens, we don’t always know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

A week ago I was telling a friend about this pocketful of grief that I had recently pulled out of an old pair of jeans. She listened empathically and then said to me in her well-intended way: “just don’t think about it.” On the one hand, not focusing on something painful is sage advice. On the other, if we don’t face the fears and pain in front of us, how will we deepen in understanding and compassion? While true that turning grief over in one’s hand, examining its edges is what some would call a real buzz kill, looking at how that particular grief arose when it did, often allows the space to forgive, give over, and move ahead without the pain of limiting and un-resolved baggage. So initially such a discovery appeared not to be such a “positive” thing, yet ultimately became a lesson  that brought both resolve and liberation from the hard pebble of something past that had been stuck in your shoe.

Now, back to the news. When I read about our corrupt banking system or hunger in our own county, I am angry. That anger in turn informs a kind of activism to make a change for the better. So, is anger really a negative emotion, or like “fight or flight,” does it hold a deeper message if we are willing to acknowledge it and explore the opportunity underlying the whoosh of feeling?

For me, the emotional life is meant to be fluid and it’s meant to be full. It’s when we get stuck on any emotion that we falter and slide into unintended consequence. I cannot go through life only feeling its losses; yet by feeling life’s losses and being true to that process, compassion and tenderness grow. I cannot go through life in a constant state of joy, not if it means ignoring the ache of my heart that aligns itself with  the needs of the poor, the sick, or the hungry. I am suspect of those who claim to have “reached” a state where joy is static by some force of will—the “I will be happy no matter what” mentality that excludes anyone grappling with the state of the human condition.

There are various self-help gurus in our world who pontificate that they have no investment in, or need for emotion. It seems a terrible affect, fraught with wasted opportunity if you eschew having your heart-broken open in order that you might better serve the world and leave it a better place. The emotional life of humankind is a complex and interesting journey, meant to inform the fullness of the life experience.

In the end I would be more sad if I hadn’t let life move me to great heights and great depths of all feeling; more sad if my heart had gone through life unscathed because I had never watched the news, never had a negative emotion and never opened myself in compassion and caring because of, and in spite of those things. It is the jagged edges of life that I find most interesting and delightful, the horrible beautiful journey of becoming a human being. For me, part of making the world a better place is living life fully.  One more time, with feeling …as the acting coach used to say.

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Nasty, Bad, Stupid Flu!

Tamiflu

 

There we were, going along our merry little way, in a day-to-day that was feeling pretty good, pretty optimistic.  And then, there it was, lying on the rug where you couldn’t see it, where you didn’t expect it—the flu.  It didn’t get me.  It reached up and grabbed my husband’s ankles and pulled him to the ground, wrestled with him, beat him about the head and then snuck out the back door to smoke a pack of cigarettes and drink a fifth of whisky. A-hole flu! I could hear her cackling in the back yard.

Life has come to a halt.  There will be no hike with Jeter today, who senses that all is not well in Oz and has curled up in the hallway outside our bedroom door.  I’ve done everything I know to do: vitamin D and A, soup, cold compresses for his fever and a call to the internist for Tamiflu—a box for him and a box for me as a preventative.  Poor guy, last time he had flu was 25 years ago.  We are generally healthy people, and about the time you announce that kind of thing to the world, there’s the friggen flu and it’s got your name written all over it.

My husband is not a “patient” patient.  He wants the flu gone now.  He cannot believe how horrible he feels.  He rails at the universe in a weak voice, panting and out of breath.  Stupid flu.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.  Once in 25 years isn’t bad, I remind him.  What else can I do, he asks?  Why oh why are men such terrible patients?  They demand a fix and demand it right away.  But flu wraps her gnarly fingers around his neck and squeezes tight, dances on his eyeballs and kicks his knees in the middle of the night.  I hate her too. She has turned my strong and balanced husband into a hound dog puppy.  I can’t wait for the flu to leave, to give us back the humor that lies dormant between us, but for now, I will just have to make chicken soup and wait.

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Kitchen Prayers

Tasty Food Abundance in Healthy Europe

A couple of days ago I wrote about “A Place At The Table,” a documentary film now in theaters and also on Amazon.com.  This is something that everyone should see.  As a result of my writing about that film, a friend sent me a You Tube link about a gentleman in South Central Los Angeles named Ron Finley.  Mr. Finley demonstrates for us what one person can do; how one vision, one heart can make our world a better place.  We have a real problem with hunger in our country.  We cannot turn a blind eye any longer.  Good people, hard-working people, people who have hopes and dreams for themselves and their children do not have enough food to eat.  And when they do have food, more often than not, it is the wrong kind of food–food that is filled with empty calories and little nutrition.  It is this kind of food that makes people fat and sick.  Obesity is linked to food with calories but no nutrition.  Ron Finley has an answer to that problem.  It’s simple.  It’s cheap (a lot cheaper than the health costs of subsisting on junk food) and if you are like me, I’ll bet it will fill your heart and your head with your own ideas about how you can create a better world by starting with your community.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EzZzZ_qpZ4w

Watch the You Tube video and tell me what you think!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A Seat At The Table

iStock_000010215203XSmallOur country is upside down and inside out!  Juxtapose the strong opposition to social welfare with rampant corporate welfare for starters.  The government gives billions in agricultural subsidies to huge corporations like Monsanto, but cuts food stamp programs that effect children.  There are 50 million “food insecure” people in our country—people who do not know where their next meal is coming from–and that is shameful.

I saw a film this weekend that was a real eye-opener—“A Place At the Table” is a documentary that sheds a light on hunger in America, its close link to obesity and why poverty is the underlying issue that needs addressing.  It’s in the theaters and you can also rent it on Amazon.com

While faith communities have done a good job of feeding the poor, charity is not what will end hunger.  Fair pay for a day’s work will feed the soul of a man as well as his belly. While the job deficit grows, so does the food deficit in many households across America, yet the safety net for helping and healing both is woefully inadequate.

What we are willing to subsidize in terms of feeding the poor is a mere $3.00 per day in Federal Assistance. Congress yells and screams, “How are we going to pay for more? These people just want a free hand out,”  all the while doling out corporate welfare to huge agricultural conglomerates and oil.  The myth, perpetuated by some of our leaders, is that somehow poverty is a choice.  I would really like to see where Paul Ryan wound up had he been born into the inner city of Philadelphia as opposed to his privileged home. Moreover, I don’t believe that any innocent child chooses to go to bed hungry. Most people who are hungry are experiencing embarrassment and not glee in applying for Federal Assistance like food stamps. We can bail out the banks, cut taxes and award money to big corporations but we cannot fund a decent program that keeps children from starving in this wealthy nation of ours?  There is something criminal about that.

“A Seat At the Table” both angered and inspired me.  It angered me because I see that so many of our problems, including this one, are easily fixable if we would just get the big money out of politics and force our leaders to be the public servants that they were intended to be instead of whores who jump into bed with whatever corporation is holding out the biggest check for their re-election.  Imagine a Washington where the leaders were responsible to the American people, addressed the problems of those people and not the almighty American corporation. Imagine a pool of political candidates reliant upon their wits and wisdom instead of the lobby whose money will get them elected or re-elected.

“A Seat At the Table” inspired me as I began to wonder what I as one person might do to alleviate the hunger of children.  I know that I can make donations to my local food bank, but I think that there may be other ways for me to advocate that food is a “right” for all people. You can live without a lot of things in life, but you cannot live without food.  No mother should ever have to send her child to bed hungry at night!

There are two tiers of food consumption in this country:  people who have the least are relegated to a steady diet of packaged, processed, junk food because it is the cheapest.  Calories are cheap and nutritious foods cost, thus the link between hunger and obesity.  There is not a “choice” to eat healthy when you are eating on $3.00 a day. The second tier is made up of those who have so much of a choice that they are the largest consumers of diet books, trying to put all that abundance into some sort of perspective.

I have never had to deal with not being able to concentrate or focus because I was hungry, the way that fifth-grader Rosie did in “A Seat At the Table.”  I don’t worry about food lasting throughout the week because I am able to shop for more if I need to.  Any challenge of my life that seemed harsh or insurmountable up until now seems greatly diminished in its importance after seeing this film.

Poverty is tied to education, is tied to food, is tied to the health of a nation.  There are simple things that we can do now to assure that children get enough nutrition to assure a chance at a getting an education; that they get enough nutrition to assure a life of good health that in turn assures opportunity for improvement of their lot.  It’s not rocket science to think that instead of giving farm subsidies to corporations like Monsanto we fund food programs for these struggling people. The cost of not doing anything to alleviate hunger in our own country  will not help to balance the budget and it is certain to bankrupt us morally and spiritually.  It is time to acknowledge the problem of hunger right here in the good ol’ US of A and ask ourselves if we want a class system that delineates the haves from the have-nots by virtue of who is rich enough to feed their family.  If the ramifications of that are too frightening to consider, then what one action can each of us take that cumulatively can make a difference?

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Do People Know How to Eat Anymore?

Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked
Cook or Be Cooked

Caution, Proceed With Care:  Food Rant

Seems like food is always in the news these days. Food corporations have huge public relations and marketing machines to tell us how to eat. In the past few weeks I have seen several food related news stories, starting with horse meat in your burger.  Nobody likes the idea of eating a pet or a pony. The “how did horse meat get into my hamburger” question seemed like a no-brainer. The problem is this: when you have such a high demand and a high push for beef, there are bound to be some other things mixed in there at some point. It’s like the cafeteria ladies at my old junior high who used to stretch the amount of hamburger meat that they had by adding oatmeal to it. It was cost-effective and I imagine that adding a little horse meat helped stretch the budget too, or in a corporate sense, helped to stretch the margins. Food is more than food, it’s big business.

Then came stories about all the additives in food, something about GMO’s and finally an article about how many calories you have to burn to lose a pound of fat. These are stories that circulate every 8 to 10 weeks along with some latest tidbit about how you shouldn’t take a multiple or  you should definitely should take a multiple vitamin.

We Are Overly Focused On Weight and Not Focused Enough on Nutritional Eating

Our choices in food have become too convoluted, too complex. Real food, nutritious food doesn’t require secret sauce and a bun. The highest calorie foods are the cheapest foods and contain the least amount of nutrition. They are filled with chemicals that make people crave them. They are the staple of the poor, and the recklessness of the not-so-poor, and that’s a whole other blog.  Restaurant food is often saturated with more than just fat. That oh-so-great and satisfying taste is the result of too much sugar and salt and who knows what kind of oil. It’s a lot cheaper to cook with lard than it is olive oil. Think “savvy cafeteria lady.” Our taste buds have become jaded by the bastardization of what should be a pinch of flavor and turns out to be a sickening pound. The food industry feeds directly into our health industry, supplying a steady stream of diseases that are oft time preventable by simple dietary changes.Fruits and vegetables

There are a lot of people out there concerned with weight loss, that enroll in programs that provide low-calorie pre-made, pre-packaged food delivered right to your door. That kind of food will never have the same nutrient content of fresh food, nor will it be as energizing. But it will be convenient.

How Many People Really Use Their Kitchen?

The industrialization of food made us forget how to eat, in less than a couple of generations. As a child of the 1950’s, I remember seeing the cover of a magazine touting the convenience of canned food. It had a picture of a woman pushing a shopping cart filled with everything from canned ham to canned corn and peas. That mentality has brought us to worshiping at the altar of convenience, and we tend to hold convenience higher than we do nurture and nature. A home cooked meal made with fresh foods is bound to be more nutritious than a drive thru Burger King. But that home cooked meal demands that someone spend actual time in their kitchen and in today’s fast paced society that is often not possible let alone desirable.

I was lucky. My mother and my grandmother cooked and I was taught to cook in their kitchens. More than that, my grandmother lived on a farm, so I got to experience snap peas fresh from the garden. Half of the peas got shelled on the back porch and the other half went into my mouth and were better than any candy. I understood that real food came from the garden and my taste buds grew accustom to early summer lettuces and late summer squash that needed little seasoning to taste delicious.

By the time I left home and discovered Adel Davis, I was not intimidated by whole wheat bread recipes or vegetable stews. Coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s with the back to the land movement, instilled in me the value and the delight of fresh fruits and vegetables. To this day, the local Farmer’s Market is my favorite culinary experience. I know that cucumbers, tomatoes and basil, that were in the fields yesterday, will make the best salad with a little Balsamic today.

iStock_000018212527XSmallSharing Food and Sharing Heart

A meal tastes better when you share it with family and friends; when you spend some time, focus and energy in the process of cutting and chopping, cooking foods slowly or combining them raw. When people sit down at my table they heap appreciation upon me for fresh soups and salads, for stuffed squashes, none of which came from cans or boxes. I nurture my guests with food. They nurture me with community and conversation. Mealtime is now a ceremony of gratitude to the earth and her bounty, and to each other.

People have forgotten how to eat and that is why our country is fat. Processed food and fast food is not real food. These days I eat a modified Paleo diet. I eat this diet because as I have gotten older, I am aware that grains cause inflammation in my body and therefore pain. Staying away from processed grains causes me to sleep better and function with less physical pain. I don’t worry about weight because I do not need to count calories when I am eating so many fresh vegetables and lean protein. People have to find a “lifestyle” diet that is right for them, and whether that’s vegetarian, Paleo or raw, the bottom line is this: real food is fresh and comes from the earth not a package. Vegetables are your friends. You do not need nearly the amount of salt or sugar that you think you do and honestly frying foods stops being tasty when you start eating fresh.

Sharing My Morning DrinkiStock_000018045957XSmall

Like most people, I live a busy life. I get up early to prepare and pack a lunch for my husband and I. I also make us a breakfast shake that is simple, nutritious and energizing. One of the things about being overweight is that often people eat more food in an attempt to get energy. Processed food is not energizing, but fresh food is! Here’s my breakfast shake:

This serves two people.

In a Vitamix or strong blender throw together
1 can of Thai Kitchen Lite Coconut Milk (approx 8 ozs)
½ cup of frozen or fresh blueberries
One cut up pear
One cut up apple
Two slices of fresh ginger (about the size of a tablespoon)
3 to 4 leaves of fresh chard

Mix/blend on high and add a little ice if you like. It is tasty and nutritious with the added bonus of being energizing.

So that’s my food story and I’m sticking to it. Have you found a lifestyle diet that works well for you?Are you a fresh food person? iStock_000015526675XSmall