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Spring Cleaning

 
You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.
-Jan Glidewell

 
People like “stuff”. We tend to hold onto it year after year. We save and stock up on things that we don’t know what to do with anymore. Maybe we keep things because they hold precious memories of days gone by, or they remind us of our parents, grandparents, past loves or childhood. To part with these precious possessions seems out of the question. There is a saying that goes, “You have to get rid of the old to make way for the new.” If you are feeling stuck or stagnant in your life, try spring-cleaning. Throw out some of that stuff, say goodbye to your past and welcome the new energy of your happy, healthy future.

 
For good mental and physical health, we actually have two “houses” that need to be spring-cleaned: our physical homes and our physical bodies. Just as we accumulate “stuff” in the form of outgrown clothes, magazines, rusty bicycles, tools and random keepsakes, so do our bodies accumulate old food residues and toxins that need to be cleaned out.

 
To spring clean your body, give it a break from rich and complicated foods by either cleansing or fasting for a short period of time. Cleansing means paring down your food to just simple fruits and vegetables, lots of water and perhaps whole grains. Fasting means limiting most foods and drinking lots of water, fresh vegetable and fruit juices, teas and soups. Without much energy going toward digestion, more energy is available to the rest of your body and mind. Cleansing and fasting can sharpen your concentration, help you gain insight and promote spiritual awareness. It can also bring improved immune function and better digestion.

 
While you’re cleaning out your body and home, don’t forget to spring-clean your heart. Throw away negative thoughts and habits you’ve been harboring that no longer serve you. A clean, open heart will allow you to receive all the good that awaits you each and every day. If your heart and mind are cluttered, there is no room for life’s gifts and surprises to enter.

 
Food Focus: Greens
Leafy greens are some of the easiest and most beneficial vegetables to incorporate into your daily routine. Densely packed with energy and nutrients, they grow upward to the sky, absorbing the sun’s light while producing oxygen. Members of this royal green family include kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, broccoli rabe, watercress, beet greens, bok choy, napa cabbage, green cabbage, spinach and broccoli.

 
How do greens benefit our bodies? They are very high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and zinc, and are a powerhouse for vitamins A, C, E and K. They are crammed full of fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals. Their color is associated with spring, which is a time to renew and refresh vital energy. In traditional Asian medicine, the color green is related to the liver, emotional stability and creativity. Greens aid in purifying the blood, strengthening the immune system, improving liver, gall bladder and kidney function, fighting depression, clearing congestion, improving circulation and keeping your skin clear and blemish free.

 
Leafy greens are the vegetables most missing from the American diet, and many of us never learned how to prepare them. Start with the very simple recipe below. Then each time you go to the market, pick up a new green to try. Soon you’ll find your favorite greens and wonder how you ever lived without them.

 
Recipe of the Month: Shiitake and Kale
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

 
Ingredients:
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
1 bunch kale, chopped
pinch of salt

 
Directions:
1. Warm oil in pan on medium heat with minced garlic until aromas of garlic are released, about 2-3 minutes.
2. Add chopped shiitake mushrooms, stir-fry for 5 minutes.
3. Add chopped kale, stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
4. Add a splash of water and pinch of salt to pan, cover and let steam for 4 minutes.

 
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Chewing

 
I have made it a rule to give every tooth of mine a chance, and when I eat, to chew every bite thirty-two times. To this rule I owe much of my success in life.
-William Gladstone

 
When it comes to increased health, it’s not just what we eat but how we eat. Digestion actually begins in the mouth, where contact with our teeth and digestive enzymes in our saliva break down food. But these days most of us rush through the whole eating experience, barely acknowledging what we’re putting in our mouths. We eat while distracted—working, reading, talking and watching television—and swallow our food practically whole. On average we chew each bite only eight times. It’s no wonder that many people have digestive problems.

 
There are many great reasons to slow down and chew your food. Saliva breaks down food into simple sugars, creating a sweet taste. The more we chew, the sweeter our food becomes, so we don’t crave those after-meal sweets. Chewing reduces digestive distress and improves assimilation, allowing our bodies to absorb maximum nutrition from each bite of food. More chewing produces more endorphins, the brain chemicals responsible for creating good feelings. It’s also helpful for weight loss, because when we are chewing well, we are more apt to notice when we are full. In fact, chewing can promote increased circulation, enhanced immunity, increased energy and endurance, as well as improve skin health and stabilize weight.

 
The power of chewing is so great that there are stories of concentration camp survivors who, when others could not, made it through with very little food by chewing their meager rations up to 300 times per bite of food. For most of us 300 chews is a daunting and unrealistic goal. However, you can experience the benefits of chewing by increasing to 30 chews per bite. Try it and see how you feel.

 
Taking time with a meal, beginning with chewing, allows for enjoyment of the whole experience of eating: the smells, flavors and textures. It helps us to give thanks, to show appreciation for the abundance in our lives and to develop patience and self-control. Try eating without the TV, computer, Blackberry, newspaper or noisy company. Instead just pay attention to the food and to how you are breathing and chewing.

 
This kind of quiet can be disconcerting at first, since we are used to a steady stream of advertising, news, media, email and demands from others. But as you create a new habit, you will begin to appreciate eating without rushing. You have to eat every day—why not learn to savor and enjoy it?

 
Food Focus: Quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), is a nutritional powerhouse with ancient origins. It was originally cultivated by the Incas more than 5,000 years ago; they referred to it as the “mother of all grains.” It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a great source of protein for vegetarians. Quinoa is also high in magnesium, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese, riboflavin and zinc.

 
While quinoa is widely considered a grain, it’s actually the seed of a plant called Chenopodium or Goosefoot, related to chard and spinach. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain and has a similar effect as other whole grains in helping to stabilize blood sugar.

 
It has a waxy protective coating called saponin which can leave a bitter taste. For best results, rinse quinoa before you cook it or even soak it for a few hours or overnight. When cooked, it has a fluffy, slightly crunchy texture. Try it in soups, salads, as a breakfast porridge or as its own side dish.

 
For quinoa, and whole grains in general, the majority of digestion occurs in the mouth through chewing and exposure to saliva. For optimal nutrition and assimilation, it is vital to chew your grains well and with awareness. A great meditation is to find a calm place, without distractions, to sit down for your meal. Make it a habit to chew each bite 20 times or more. See how this simple practice can help your digestion and overall focus for the rest of your day.

 
Recipe of the Month: Quinoa Pilaf
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

 
Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
2 1/4 cups water or stock
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch of salt

 
Directions:
1. Rinse quinoa in fine mesh strainer until water runs clear.
2. Boil the water and add quinoa and salt, cover and reduce heat.
3. After 15 minutes add cranberries and walnuts to top; do not stir.
4. Cook 5 minutes more, until all the liquid is absorbed.
5. Remove from heat, add parsley and fluff with fork, cover and let sit for 3-5 minutes and serve.

 
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Soul Food

 
Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.
-Rumi

 
Soul Food
Think for a moment of a food from your past, one that makes you feel great after you eat it for no specific reason. Maybe it is macaroni and cheese, slow-simmered tomato sauce, ice cream cones or potato pancakes. Eating comfort foods (every now and then) can be incredibly healing, even though your rational brain might not consider it highly nutritious.

 
Food has the power to impact us on a level deeper than just our physical well-being. What we eat can reconnect us to precious memories, like childhood playtimes, first dates, holidays, our grandmother’s cooking or our country of ancestry. Our bodies remember foods from the past on an emotional and cellular level. Eating this food connects us to our roots and has youthening and nurturing effects that go far beyond the food’s biochemical make-up.

 
Acknowledging what different foods mean to us is an important part of cultivating a good relationship with food. This month when we celebrate lovers and relationships, it’s important to notice that we each have a relationship with food—and that this relationship is often far from loving. Many of us restrict food, attempting to control our weight. We often abuse food, substituting it for emotional well-being. Others ignore food, swallowing it whole before we’ve even tasted it.

 
What would your life be like if you treated food and your body as you would treat your beloved – with gentleness, playfulness, communication, honesty, respect and love? The next time you eat your soul food, do so with awareness and without guilt, and enjoy all the healing and nourishment it brings you.

 
Food Focus: Beans
Beans, or legumes, including peas and lentils, are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Beans are found in most traditional cultures as a staple food, offering grounding and strengthening properties that enhance endurance. They offer a highly usable, highly absorbable source of calcium for the body. A very inexpensive source of high nutrition, beans can be rich, delicious and satisfying,

 
Lack of sexual energy is often due to overtaxed adrenal glands and kidneys. Beans are known for strengthening these organs (ever noticed the shape of a bean?) and can help restore vital energy as well as sexual energy.

 
Beans have a reputation for causing digestive distress, but this is usually because they have been undercooked or improperly prepared. To help reduce gas-forming properties, soak beans overnight prior to cooking, increase cooking time, add spices like bay leaf, oregano or cumin, or add kombu (a sea vegetable) when cooking.

 
Recipe of the Month: Easy Beans and Greens
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2-3 servings

 
Ingredients:
1 can black beans (or pinto, red, kidney—your choice)
1 bunch collard greens (or kale, spinach—your choice)
your favorite toppings, such as salsa, avocado or guacamole and sour cream

 
Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat drained beans. Add your favorite seasonings, if desired.
2. Fill a separate medium saucepan with 1-2 inches of water and bring to a boil.
3. Wash and chop greens (you can use the stems, too) and add to boiling water.
4. Cook for 2-3 minutes until greens are bright green and tender. Drain off water.
5. On a plate, arrange a portion of the greens, top with a portion of the beans and finish with toppings of your choice.

 
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New Year New You

 
True life is lived when tiny changes occur.
-Leo Tolstoy

 
New Year, New You
A lot of people begin the New Year by making resolutions. We’ve all been there. We take a vow to lose weight, exercise more or spend more time with our family. We start the year with great intentions, but then we quickly relapse into old habits. Why is it so hard to stick to those New Year’s resolutions?

 
Here are some ways you can make your intentions a reality this year:
 
1. Write down your intentions and keep them in a visible place, like taped to your bedroom mirror or the dashboard of your car.
 
2. Get to the source of whatever is keeping you in a rut. Are you in a stressful relationship that causes you to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every night? Are you stressed at work and feel too tired to exercise after work? If you don’t tackle the root of the behavior, it will be much harder to accomplish your goal.
 
3. Be clear about what your life would look like once you achieve your goal. If you resolve to go to the gym more, how will this benefit you? Get connected to the result of your action, and you will be more likely to stick with your plan.
 
4. Share your resolutions with friends and family. Hold each other accountable for achieving your goals. If you want to go to the gym more, have a friend call you two or three times a week to check on you or invite them to join you.
 
5. Reward yourself with every little accomplishment. If your intention is to lose weight and you lose 1 pound a week, pamper yourself with a massage.
Big changes do not require big leaps. Permanent change is more likely to happen gradually than through one big restrictive plan. Allow yourself to climb the ladder one rung at a time.

 
Happy New Year!

 
Food Focus: Sea Vegetables
In traditional Chinese healing, sea vegetables correspond to the winter season and to the kidneys, adrenal glands, bladder and reproductive organs. The strengthening, balancing and cleansing properties of sea vegetables are known to help these organs as well as the hair, skin and nails. Sea vegetables (or seaweeds) provide a variety of minerals and vitamins, including calcium, iron and iodine, and can help balance hormone and thyroid levels in the body. Eating too many processed foods or foods grown in mineral-depleted soil can result in a lack of minerals in the body, leading to cravings for salty or sugary foods. Adding sea vegetables to your diet can help balance your energy levels and alleviate cravings.

 
Recipe of the Month: Mighty Miso Soup
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
Yield: 4-5 servings

 
Ingredients:
4-5 cups spring water
1-2 inch strip of wakame, rinsed and soaked 5 minutes
in 1 cup of water until softened
1-2 cups thinly sliced vegetables of your choice (see notes)
2-3 teaspoons barley miso
2 scallions, finely chopped

 
Directions:
1. Chop soaked wakame.
2. Discard soaking water or use on houseplants for a boost of minerals.
3. Place water and wakame in a soup pot and bring to a boil.
4. Add root vegetables first and simmer gently for 5 minutes or until tender.
5. Add leafy vegetables and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
6. Remove about 1/2 cup of liquid from pot and dissolve miso into it. Return it to the pot.
7. Reduce heat to very low; do not boil or simmer miso broth.
8. Allow soup to cook 2-3 minutes.
9. Garnish with scallions and serve.

 
Note:
Any combination of vegetables can be used in miso soup. Here are some classic combinations:
• onion-daikon: cleansing
• onion-carrot-shiitake mushroom-kale: mildly sweet
• onion-winter squash-cabbage: great in wintertime
• leek-corn-broccoli: great in summertime

 
Variations:
• Add cooked grains at the start of making the soup. They will become nice and soft.
• Add a tablespoon of uncooked quinoa or millet at the beginning and let it cook with vegetables for 20 minutes.
• Add cubed tofu toward the end.
• Add bean sprouts toward the end.
• Season with 1/2 teaspoon ginger juice for an interesting twist.
• If using dry shiitake mushrooms, let them soak for 20 minutes, slice and add at the beginning.

Taking it Slow

 
Get Slow
Who doesn’t feel as if there aren’t enough hours in the day? We rush through the day, running here and there, and end up exhausted. Somehow these days full of duties, obligations and busyness have begun to build up and become our lives. We spend our time doing things we don’t really want to do, yet feel we should. We’ve come to believe that being productive and crossing things off our to-do list is the ultimate goal.

 
The truth is, life on Earth is a brief gift, and our time is too precious to be used like this. If we want our lives to be balanced and healthy, we need to lessen our load and increase our down time. This means planning less in a day, prioritizing those things that make our hearts sing and de-prioritizing those things that are not imperative.

 
If we must accomplish many things each day, we can still change the quality with which we do things. How can we transmute that sprint to the train into something delicious instead of the usual gripping and tightening experience? Where can we find ease in the midst of stress? How can we cultivate the art of going slowly?

 
Take a few moments before you climb out of bed in the morning to remember your dreams and to think about what you want from the day. Leave your watch on the bedside table. Take the scenic route. Sit for a moment with your eyes closed when you start your computer. Check email only twice a day. Don’t pack your schedule so tightly that there’s no time for a short walk. Light candles before you start to cook dinner. Add one moment here and there for slowness; it can be done simply and will have a profound effect on your well-being.

 
Adapted from an article by Marco Visscher & Jay Walljasper, Ode Magazine, Issue #15, www.odemagazine.com

 
Food Focus: Oils and Fats
Not all oils and fats are created equal. Heavily processed, hydrogenated, “trans” fats and oils that are used in prepared, packaged foods can be extremely damaging to the body. However, fats and oils from whole foods and other high-quality sources can steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, nourish our skin, hair and nails and provide lubrication to keep the body functioning fluidly. Our bodies also need fat for insulation and to protect and hold our organs in place.

 
A healthy percentage of high-quality fat in a meal satisfies and leaves feelings of energy, fulfillment and warmth. When there are excess fats and oils in the diet, especially heavily processed fats, symptoms can include weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain and an overall feeling of mental, physical and emotional heaviness. Signs of insufficient high-quality fats are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, hunger after meals and feeling cold.

 
There are many sources of healthy fats and oils. For sautéing and baking, try butter, ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil because they do not break down when used at high temperatures. Whensautéing foods at moderate temperatures, try organic extra virgin olive oil. Oils like flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings on top of salads, veggies or grains. Other healthy fats are found in whole nuts and seeds and in their butters like almond butter ortahini. Whole foods such as avocados, olives and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with wild salmon and omega-3 and omega-6 organic eggs. Experiment with these healthy fat sources and see which work best for you and leave you satisfied.

 
When selecting oils, buy the highest-quality organic products you can afford, since cooking oils are the backbone of so many dishes. Good words to look for on the label are organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin and unrefined. Words to avoid areexpeller-pressed, refined and solvent extracted.

 
Recipes of the Month:

 
Savory Tahini Sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 cup

 
Ingredients:
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of cayenne (to your taste)

 
Directions:
1. In a bowl briskly whisk together the tahini and water until combined. It will look separated at first: just keep whisking!
2. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until combined.
3. Adjust flavors to your taste. Add additional water if you want it thinner.
4. Serve over grains and greens.
Note: Tahini sauce keeps refrigerated for up to one week.
Avocado Dip
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cup

 
Ingredients:
1 large peeled and pitted avocado
2/3 cup plain yogurt, goat yogurt or soy yogurt
1 diced tomato
dash or two of cayenne pepper
sea salt and black pepper

 
Directions:
1. Mash avocado with a fork until very smooth.
2. Add yogurt, tomato, cayenne. Blend until smooth. This may be done in a food processor, in a blender or with a fork.
3. Add sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste.
4. Serve chilled with mixed raw vegetables.
Note: Best made a maximum of 1 hour before serving.
 

Cravings

 
Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.
-Cicero

 
Deconstructing Cravings
The body is an amazing source of intelligence. It is always there for you, pumping blood, never skipping a heartbeat, digesting whatever food you put in it and maintaining homeostasis. Is this reliable, intelligent bio-computer making a mistake by craving ice cream or a hamburger or chocolate? Are cravings due to lack of will-power or discipline? I’d like to suggest that cravings are not a problem. They are critical pieces of information that tell you what your body needs.

 
The important thing is to understand why you crave what you crave. Perhaps your diet is too restrictive or devoid of essential nutrients. Perhaps you are living a lifestyle that is too boring or stressful. Your body tries to correct the imbalance by sending you a message: a craving. A craving for something sweet could mean you need more protein, more exercise, more water or more love in your life. The key to stopping the sugar craving is to understand and deliver what your body really needs.

 
No book or theory can tell you what to eat. Only awareness of your body and its needs can tell you. Of all the relationships in our lives, the one with our body is the most essential. It takes communication, love and time to cultivate a relationship with your body. As you learn to decipher and respond to your body’s cravings, you will create a deep and lasting level of health and balance.

 
The next time you have a craving, treat it as a loving message from your body instead of a weakness. Try these tips to respond to your body:

 
• Have a glass of water and wait 10 minutes.
• Eat a healthier version of what you crave. For example, if you crave sweets, try eating more fruit and sweet or root vegetables.
• What is out of balance in your life? Is there something you need to express, or is something being repressed? What happened in your life just before you had this craving?
• When you eat the food you are craving, enjoy it, taste it, savor it; notice its effect. Then you will become more aware and free to decide if you really want it next time.

 
Food Focus: Natural Sweeteners
Who among us doesn’t love sweets? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. But when it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal. There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin and Splenda. Since refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals and fiber, they can spike blood sugar, which can often lead to cravings and mood and energy fluctuations. Instead, using naturally and minimally processed sweeteners can reduce cravings for sugary things.

 
Here are a few natural sweeteners to substitute in drinks, food and baking. Since they are all approximately 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar, you can use less. You can find them in most supermarkets or natural food stores. When replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners in a recipe, reduce the amounts of other liquids.

 
Raw Honey
Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners on the market. Honey will have a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some are very dark and intensely flavored. Wherever possible, choose raw honey, as it is unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.

 
Agave Nectar
Agave is made through the extraction and purification of the juice of the agave cactus. It does not stimulate insulin secretion as other sugars do, so it does not create a “sugar rush.” It has a delightfully light and mild flavor.

 
Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.