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I wrote a while back about the sweet craving-comfort food connection (in cookie monster post) and how traveling can be a trigger.

Well, here I am, traveling for the holidays.  I’m on vacation, and tempted by the wonderful sweets here in Mexico.  Flan.  All kinds of cookies and treats from the bakeries.  Churros.  Hot chocolate.  Yum. Yum. Yum. 

Why is it that my hand didn’t go out at all the fruit stands?  Hmmm… However, I did buy whole fruit–apples, tangerines and guavas– at a market — which was a bit of a walk out from the center.  Fortunately, I was staying in an apartment with a kitchen, so I could wash and cut these to eat.  Today, I’m in a new town, and no kitchen or knife, either.

This is all to say that in addition to missing home and being drawn to sweetness, there’s a convenience factor that goes with a sweet tooth on the road. 

Reminder for future travels. 

  • Bring along a plastic knife, or pack a real knife if I know I’m going to check my luggage.
  • Load up on fruit whenever I can.  It satisfies the sweet craving, before I feel the urge for flan.
  • Bring or buy dried fruit.  (Difficult for me now since I’m wearing braces, but normally a great alternative.)
  • Awareness and intention.  I can’t use the excuse that I’m on vacation to take a vacation from taking care of myself!!!
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In Chinese Medicine, the end-of-summer “season” (as well as all the “end-of” seasons) is associated with the Earth Element. It’s the time when some things come to a close, while other things begin.

At such a time of transition, the Earth Element reminds us to be grounded; think about healthy roots that help weather the uncertainties of transitions. The Earth Element is also about being centered; after all, the earth is the center of the other elements: metal, water, wood and fire.

Here are some ideas to support you in being more grounded and centered at summer’s end, and on any day.

Natural Sweetness

Do you find yourself at times craving sweets more than usual? When I feel stressed or wanting some “comfort”, I’m mightily tempted to indulge in my favorite almond croissant. The flavor associated with the Earth Element is sweetness, so that sugar craving can signal a state of being uncentered. The problem is that sugar can add fuel to the fire, by throwing you off balance even more with spikes in blood sugar and energy. Consider some natural sweetness: add honey, instead of sugar, to sweeten your tea; treat yourself to the natural and healthier sweetness of dried dates.

Acu Point: Hara

This point is a couple of fingers’ width below your bellybutton. This is your “energy center”, the place from where you have greatest balance. If you have lots of thoughts and ideas flying around in your head, you might feel light, ungrounded. If you’re dragging your feet, heavy on the ground and sluggish, your energy needs some uplifting, to be centered. Next time you feel uncentered, take a seat with your feel on the floor, or stand with your weight evenly on both feet, and rest one or both hands gently on your belly, under your navel. Take a few long deep and slow breaths. Learn more about this.

Grounding Through Routine

In Chinese Medicine, routine is associated with the Earth element and the idea of “home”. Do you have a daily routine that feels “homey” to you? A daily morning walk, afternoon yoga practice, or bedtime reading… I talked about this earlier in terms of the benefits of routine for healthy travel, but consider that every day of your life is a journey.

Tomorrow, I get braces on my teeth.  I’ve started a separate blog focused on that, but instead of making it a mere chronicle of braces, it focuses on “What’s in a Smile“.

Not that I want to jinx things with such gloomy titles as “anticipating pain”, but really, let’s face it, it will be painful.  I know.  I had braces as a teenager, many years ago.  This time, I  have more tools in my toolkit, including my acupressure and TCM training.  So, I’ll take the opportunity of this dental experience to explore more avenues to health and wellness.

So, the first thing I note is that the body part governed by the Water Element, which we’ve talked about this winter, is our bone structure.   And certaingly the teeth and jaw are the prime recipients of stress and movement for braces.  So, I guess you could say that I’m acting “in season” to start addressing my teeth.  After all, wintertime is a good season for soups and more “watery” culinary fare, so this is my chance to dig out those recipes and use the blender.

To be more specific about teeth and the meridians, it is said that there is a tooth-to-meridian association.  In other words, all the meridians are connected.  So one important intention for me to have it to pay attention to the pain, and understand that while I may feel most pain in my jaw and head, that since my body is an interconnected whole, it is possible that I may feel out of sorts in other areas of my body.

I love to learn about the healing value of food. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, plants and foods are an important healing source in the form of herbal medicines, and in teaching us about what foods can help us get back into balance. The basic tenet of eating healthy is to go with the flow of nature.

And I believe that is the essence of what Michael Pollan writes of in an article for the New York Times that begins, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

A helpful blog posting on inspired protagonist has paraphrased Pollan’s rules.

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Avoid food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best.
  3. Never eat food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, or more than five in number. Or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. These are all signs that the food has been heavily processed.
  4. Do as little of your shopping at the supermarket as possible. Farmers Markets are much better food sources.
  5. Pay more, eat less. It’s a lot healthier to eat less high quality (i.e. expensive) food than it is to eat a larger quantity of poor quality food. It’s like beer. Better to drink one really great craft-brewed ale than a whole six pack of swill that costs less than that single bottle.
  6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. People who eat by the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t healthy, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around.
  8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it.
  9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.

To the last point, I would add, eat like a rainbow-eater. Eat the (natural) spectrum of food colors.

I have been p a t i e n t l y waiting for my shipment of dried dates. I called The Date People in August, to get on their list. I called in September. In October. In November. And today, ahhh, sweet bliss.

halawi datesAnd the sweetness is key, because I’ve been craving something sweet during this sugar-saturated social season. I’ve been following my friend Mary’s holiday-sweets strategy of keeping a mental list of all the tempting holiday goodies I haven’t indulged in, in anticipation of these wonderful dates: sun-filled packages of natural sweetness and nutrition.

These particular dates that landed at my door today, are from The Date People, who grow 300 trees on six acres in southern California, not far from the Mexico border. Sustainably and veganically grown according to their informative newsletter, which you can see on their website: www.datepeople.net. (760)359-3211

By the way, my 15 lb box of halawi dates cost only $41.50, plus shipping! (Pricing info is in their newsletter; last page. ) I repackage the dates into ziplock baggies (about 1 lb each) and freeze them. Do you have recipes using dates to share?

sweet potatoesLast night I cooked up a deep orange and dark green dish–sweet potatoes and chard from the farmer’s market. Simple and fulfilling, the colors remind me of autumn. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seasons are as much about us and our bodies and hearts, as it is about the natural world. And so we can learn from Mother Nature, eating the bounty she gives us.
squashespersimmonsbrussel sprout stalkapplesAlemany Farmer’s Market, San Francisco

Apples, persimmons, potatoes, squash… brussel sprouts on the stalk… all from the Alemany Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. We’re lucky to have year-round access to local produce here in the Bay Area; it’s where I go to learn how to eat healthy with the seasons.

Here’s a separate post on a book recommendation about Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

Brrrrrr!!!!
It is unusually cold here in the Bay Area. Time for more tea!

The Sweet & Spicy Ginger Tea is nicknamed “KLTea,” after my tea-brewer friend Karen L. It’s a home-brewed natural tea that features the warming characteristics of ginger root. Perfect for a chilly morning… or afternoon… or evening.

  • In a pot, simmer a few slices of fresh ginger root (you can use dried ginger, too), about 1/4 teaspoon of licorice root and 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom seeds.
  • Experiment with the portions to brew the tea that fits your fancy. Licorice root provides sweetness, and ginger the spiciness.
  • I recommend using organic ingredients whenever possible.

My friend the Potion Queen at Venus Bee gave me a slim book called the Herb Tea Book, chock full of tea recipes for all occasions. I’ll report back later.

Please share any good warming tea tips you have! Brrrr!