Spring: Sip on a Simple Harmonizing Habit

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Enjoy this guide to springtime kitchen medicine I wrote last year. -Kirsten

It's spring in the Northern hemisphere! Spring corresponds with the Wood element in the 5 element system, and looking at the energetics of the Wood element can give us lots of great ideas for staying balanced at this time of year. The cycles of the earth influence all of us earthlings! Temperatures, daylight hours, vegetation... all the things that make up our environment have an impact on us, and traditional practices can be really helpful in maintaining health and balance, even in our modern world. 

The sour flavor corresponds with the Wood element, and many of the first spring fruits like berries and citrus have a tangy sourness in contrast to the full sweetness of summer fruits. The sour taste is relaxing and softening - it has an astringent, drawing inward function (think of puckering up your lips after tasting a lemon!), which pulls fluids into the system, helping our tendons and skin be more moistened and flexible. After a winter of bulky clothes, indoor heating, dry air and being stuck inside, the sour flavor helps restore flexibility and refresh us from the inside out. Folks who have issues with hypermobility and joint laxity are advised to stay away from sour foods, especially in excess.

Spring Sour Habit: Lemon Water! Start your day with some room temperature water with lemon juice or a wedge of organic lemon, and sip it through the day to keep you hydrated and flexible. Seasonal foods like dark green veggies, berries and fresh veggies with a vinaigrette are other tasty seasonal ways to access the power of sour.

The Five Elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, are powerful energetic metaphors to help us be in harmony with ourselves and the natural world. My friend and colleague Denise Cicuto L.Ac and I have created a line of Healing Anointing Oils using aromatherapy in sync with the elements.

I'll be talking more about healing practices for Spring at Spring - Intro To Hatha Series - Alignment + Acupuncture - with Misia Denéa of Hatha Holistic Wellness . Early morning yoga and healing learning at @theworkingbodyoakland #SpringTimeWellness Series will begin in a few weeks and REGISTRATION is OPEN and closes next week April 5th 2019 ! I'll be the guest Monday April 15.

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Summer Wellness Series: Tasty Kitchen Medicine

This article is sixth in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Late Summer is a season that might be unfamiliar to you. In traditional Chinese medicine we use the five element system of natural cosmology to understand the rthyms of our bodies and the earth. Even if we didn't grow up thinking of Late Summer as a specific season, we probably know what it means - harvest, end of summer, the transition between the unbounded expansion of Summer and the contraction and endings of Fall.

Read about Late Summer and its element, Earth, in Erin's article from last week.

Seasonal foods are one of the best ways to be in harmony with the natural world, and help us surf the energies of climate, day length, temperature and so on that might impact our health. 

Since my practice and patients are in the Bay Area, I'll talk about specifics with regards to our climate - Late Summer is a clearly delineated season for us here! However the Earth element affects all of us, wherever we live.

By eating to support our Earth element in late summer, we can ease ourselves into fall and protect ourselves from the coming cold and flu season. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we're taught 'phlegm is created in the Spleen (Earth) and stored in the Lung (Metal). Supporting our Spleen by eating easy to digest, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting foods is a great way to buffer our Lungs from fall allergies and cold and flu.

The Flavor of the Season: Sweet.

Sweetness is the flavor associated with Late Summer, and is a dominant flavor in much of the produce now in season. Sweetness softens and relaxes us, and naturally sweet foods are deeply nourishing to our systems and our spirits. Too much sugar with our sweetness can overload the system, and leave us craving more sweet without feeling satisfied. Sweetness helps us the transition from the long days of summer into fall.

The Color of the Season: Gold.

Yellow, gold and orange are the colors associated with the Earth element, and are found in many of the foods in farmers' markets right now: squash, plums, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, corn. In biomedicine terms, orange produce is rich is carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and B vitamins that are especially beneficial for the immune system, skin and eye health.

The Cuisine of the Season: Light and Warm

The Spleen is said to like warmth and hate dampness. Dumping cold, wet foods like ice cream, cold drinks and raw veggies is a good way to dampen our digestive hearth and find ourselves with kickback like bloating, belching, distention and gas, upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, high nutrient foods are like dry, fragrant wood that burns easily and doesn't leave stinky ash.

In short, as the days shorten and table is covered with the sweet, golden fruits of the harvest, we shift our diet to eat what's in season, simmered soup of butternut squash, roasted peaches, corn and bean salad. Here's a few of my fave recipes for this season in-between.

Pumpkin Pancakes

This recipe from Practical Paleo is ready in a flash and the cakes are both super satisfying (pumpkin and egg) without being too heavy for warm late summer days. I like to eat them with freshly sliced peaches or a quick simmered compote. If you've been eating something cold for breakfast like cereal, yogurt or smoothies, give these pancakes a try.

Roast butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za'atar

This sheet pan roast vegetable dish from Yotam Ottolenghi stands up as a centerpiece, side or salad. Beta-carotene is fat soluble and significantly more available to the body when eaten with fat, like the tahini and pinenuts in this recipe. Try it with a roast chicken for a Sunday dinner knockout.

Peach Crumble with Almond Flour Topping

Fresh peaches become incredibly sweet when baked or grilled. This simple recipe uses a spoonful of maple syrup and buttery almond topping to fancy up roast peaches into something truly fantastic.

Golden Milk

Golden milk is a traditional healing beverage from South Asia and Ayurvedic medicine. Its golden color and sweet flavor put it squarely in the Earth element, but its sweetness and richness are tempered by the addition of spicy black pepper and cardamom.

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Summer Wellness Series: Eating for the Heat!

This article is second in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

A guiding principle of holistic health systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine is harmony or balance. So healthful eating in summer means feeding ourselves in a way that offsets the extremes of the seasons and keeps us in harmony with the earth's energies. What this is exactly will vary depending on the climate - traditional seasonal foods from where you live are the best place to start! For those of us with hot, dry summers like Northern California here's three things to consider

1. Hydration: we're in the dry season - the earth is parched, fires are burning and it's a long way to go before the rains of winter. 

2. Seasonal produce: what's fresh, local and available right now? These foods are naturally in sync with what our bodies need, and make meal times tasty and fun.

3. Energetics: part of 'food medicine' - certain flavors help us balance the external energies coming at us and keep us on an even keel

Hydration - healthful and tasty summer bevvies:

There's something so 'summery' about a big glass of a refreshing, beautifully colored beverage, even better if sipped on a patio with friends and your feet up! There's a lot of options out there that might not help you feel great, like sugary sodas and alcoholic beverages. It's great to have options that will restore you, rather than leaving you having to recover the next day!

Sun tea: brew herbal tea in a half gallon mason jar or jug in a sunny spot. Great choices for cooling summer hydration include hibiscus, mint, lemon balm and chrysanthemum. Put 1/4 cup of herbs in half a gallon of water and leave in the sun for a few hours until it's strong enough. Strain to drink.

Shrubs and switchels: delightfully refreshing old fashioned drinks. Vinegar, sweetener and ginger are added to water, along with fruits or other flavorings. You can buy readymade shrub bases in many health food stores and liquor stores, or experiment with making your own. Try this strawberry shrub recipe from Erin.

Earth Wisdom: seasonal foods have what we need!

Foods in season at this time of year are light, refreshing, usually easy to digest even when raw, and packed with water. Melons, stonefruit, grapes and berries, and veggies like summer squash, artichokes, cucumbers, snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce. In general, most people don't do well with a ton of raw foods in their diet - we evolved to eat cooked foods and it is easier on our digestion. At the height of summer we can often tolerate more raw foods - but if you still find you have gas, bloating and indigestion with raw veggies, try a cooked veg salad.

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Energetics: Healing with the Flavor of the Heart.

Last week Erin talked about the energy of Summer - it's the season of the Fire element and the Heart. We're 'fired up' and open to connection, eating together with friends, family and lovers, and especially tuned to beauty and love in our mealtimes. The flavor of the Fire element is bitter. Bitter has a cooling, descending quality, and a small amount can help us cool off and feel more grounded. It's a flavor that's often neglected in Western diets. Try adding some bitter greens like escarole or dandelion to your salad, sprinkling a few raw cacao nibs on a bowl of diced peaches, or have some herbal bitters in water -especially if you're feeling overwhelmed with the fiery energy of summer, too hot, too much, overdrawn on social energy or having trouble sleeping or 'coming down' after fun and exciting times.

Seasonal eating is the heritage of all people! Here's a few of my favorite sources to learn more (and get lots of recipes!) Please let me know some of yours in the comments!

Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, Jessica Prentice

Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Elson Haas MD

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni PhD and Cathy McNease

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morrell

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett

The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Urmila Desai

The Yin-Yang Diet, Tara Akuna R.Ac. & Sara Ward R.Ac.

 

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Summertime Sippers to Beat the Heat

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Curious as to why Chinese Medicine practitioners recommend against icy cold drinks on hot days? Check out this article I wrote a few years ago explaining it - plus a few recipes for my fave summer sippers!

As acupuncturists and herbalists, we like to offer alternatives to standard American or Western practices for ‘beating the heat’ that are not health promoting - icy cold drinks, that American favorite, come to mind. Access to refrigeration and summertime ice cubes is relatively recent. Before the Big Gulp with Ice, traditional summertime beverages helped to hydrate us after sweating and balance our bodies to feel more at ease in the heat. But why do TCM practitioners recommend avoiding a giant icy drink? When the body is very warm, dumping ice cold into the system causes a shock - if you've every had an upset stomach after downing a freezing drink on a hot day, or had loose stools or a headache after snowcones, ice cream or other super cold foods, you've felt the effects. Very cold foods can have a milder long term effect on the digestive system too - the digestive system is like a fire, and very cold foods make it harder to get a good flame going. (Read the NPR article linked at the bottom of this post for the modern science behind avoiding cold drinks).

Why not try these tasty treats!?

Mint and Chrysanthemum Tea: Bo he and ju hua are a classic pairing for heat and wind - great for the kind of dry heat that makes allergies flare up. It has a pleasant taste that’s palatable to most people - a little sweetening with stevia leaf, honey or rock sugar makes it even easier to drink. It’s also delicious cool.

Green Tea with Hibiscus: This is a great iced coffee or iced tea substitute as the green tea provides a gentle lift of energy without overdoing it like more caffeinated beverages. Hibiscus offers a refreshing sweet/sour flavor that benefits the liver and nourishes yin, and a beautiful red color, resonating with the Fire element of Summer. It is used in traditional medicines around the world to cool the body and improve hydration. I combine equal parts of both and make sun tea in a large mason jar.

Cantaloupe Agua Fresca: Aguas frescas (cool waters) are refreshing summer beverages made from fresh fruit, popular throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They can easily be made without sugar for a sweet, refreshing taste of summer that doesn’t knock your spleen out and kick your blood sugar in the butt. Mix equal parts ripe cantaloupe and water in a blender and puree. A tiny pinch of salt will improve the hydrating effect and make it taste sweeter. Add a little bit of grated fresh ginger, especially if you tend towards digestive upset like gas and bloating.

Bonus recipe: try a tart and refreshing fruit shrub from my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac

All of these are delicious cool or at room temperature - but if you’d like a little accessible science to help share the wisdom of avoiding cold drinks on hot days, here’s an investigation from NPR that explains from an allopathic perspective why cold drinks make you hotter. A votre santé!

Angelica & Peony: Radiant Natural Health and Beauty products are created by an acupuncturist and herbalist. Contact me for samples and information about enhancing your practice with Angelica & Peony!

 

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Candy corn, pumpkin spice, and seasonal eating

Scroll to the end for seasonal recipe ideas if you don’t want to read my rant!

We crave the foods the earth offers

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What’s the deal with pumpkin spice flavored everything? Why do we go so nuts for manufactured foods like candy corn, Shamrock Shakes, Cadbury Creme Eggs and so on? I’ve seen this insight attributed to Michael Pollan - that ultimately we crave seasonal eating at a deep ancestral level so we flock to these commercial substitutes (let me know if you have a source on this - it’s not original to me).

Once strawberries, oysters, pheasant, asparagus, peaches and fresh churned butter were transient seasonal delicacies, enjoyed for their fresh, once a year flavor, as well as the health benefits that our ancestors reaped from eating seasonal foods. Modern agribusiness has cut us off from the rhythms of the earth and sold our ancestral heritages back to us as pumpkin spice m&ms.

My family in Canada sometimes mocks my commitment to seasonal local eating, given that I live in California, with a 12 month growing season, surrounded by farms producing some of the world’s tasty produce all year long. I ate seasonally and locally when I lived in Toronto as well, and there were a lot of apples and beets during the winter, I’m not going to lie. On balance eating seasonally is generally tastier (and more frugal) as we eat the foods when they are at their best, and can enjoy heirloom varieties that won’t withstand the rigors of transport and supermarkets. We also gift ourselves with the intense pleasure of eating a food for the first time in the year (in Judaism, we have a special blessing to acknowledge the wonder of that moment - the taste of the first strawberry of spring, the first peach of summer, the first pomegranate of fall)

Your perfect diet

A central tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many traditional and holistic approaches is that there is no one size fits all approach. In modern Western culture, we quest constantly for the ‘perfect human diet’ (in fact there’s a best selling book by that name) but let me break it to you. There is no such thing.

Western science is only starting to understand the barest glimmer of how food and nutrition actually interacts with our body processes, and is continually exasperated by contradictory findings when it tries to study whether a particular food or macronutrient or diet is ‘healthy’ or not. The dualism of dominant western thought endlessly strives to judge whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ but this profoundly misunderstands the nature of reality. Your genes, your age, your lifestyle, the climate where you live, your history, what you ask of your body - all of these deeply affect what is ‘’healthy’ for you. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait a couple of thousand years for Western dietitians to figure this out - we have the wisdom of all our ancestors and traditional knowledge available to us.

One thing I have come to understand in recent years is that the toll of modern ‘foods’ including food processing, additives, intensive hybridization, genetic modification, as well as environmental degradation and toxic exposures has resulted in an even more challenging situation for many people, where what appear to be natural whole foods cannot be tolerated. There are folks whose health restricts them from certain foods - like wheat - that are cornerstones of traditional diets. But is it really wheat as our ancestors or even other countries know it? Witness the common phenomenon of North Americans with wheat or grain intolerances who are able to eat bread and grains in Europe or Asia without symptoms. Undoubtedly being on vacation can reduce our stress load and improve our digestion, but in fact there are measurable differences between American and European wheat and bread.

Understanding the properties of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that all foods have different properties. These are based on the Five Flavors, each of which has different effects in the body. This enables us to understand foods as active, interactive substances that we can combine and use for pleasure, nourishment and healing.

The Five flavours are: Pungent, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Sweet. Different seasons have affinities for different flavors, and we benefit from emphasizing that flavor in the right season. This approach to food can be a study in its own right, but I really believe it is accessible to any home cook who is interested in this approach. Soon it becomes second nature to choose and modify recipes in harmony with the season or with particular needs or conditions of those who will be eating. It’s really just part of cooking to think about complementary flavors and properties - you are already doing it when you choose what to make for dinner!

There are a variety of cultural approaches to this, and I recommend exploring Ayurvedic sources like Acharya Shunya’s Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom or the works produced by the Weston A. Price Foundation which promotes traditional eating from a European perspective. The Tao of Nutrition by my teachers Dr. Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease is a friendly introduction to the specifics of the TCM energetics of foods, and I love the recipes in Daverick Legget’s Recipes for Self-Healing. California based Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast is probably my number one recommendation for the North American resident looking to eat seasonally.

So, where to begin? Where you are of course! If you’re in the US, visit www.seasonalfoodguide.org for a fun interactive listing of what’s currently in season in your area (you can even get the app!)

Foods and flavors of Late Summer:

The Earth element rules late summer, and conveys a sense of both transitions and neutrality - neither here nor there. The direction associated with the Earth element is none -  the center. Foods that support the Earth element often carry its associated color of golden orange or yellow, as well as being relatively neutral or sweet in taste, grounding, comforting and calming. As we move from the expansive activity of summer to the challenges of Fall, and the often frantic pace of modern life including returning kids to school, projects on overdrive to finish out the calendar year, accelerating towards the frenzy of the holiday season, these weeks are ones where emphasizing simple, comforting and easy to digest foods is a blessing.

Gorgeous golden seasonal foods in California right now include persimmons, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes

Meals to try could include squash soup (or squash curry with meat or legumes for a one pot meal), carrot salad with raisins, or lentil dal over baked sweet potatoes. All of these are easy to make ahead, pack for lunch, or heat up quickly at the end of busy day for a peaceful, centered meal that will nourish you body and soul.

Foods and Flavors of Autumn

The Metal element rules autumn, and conveys an energetic sense of contraction, withdrawal, the harvest and the in-breath. We are gathering-in and preparing for winter, darkness and the quiet and restful time of the year (in theory!). Metal and autumn are associated with the lungs, skin and respiratory system - and we certainly know this as the onset of cold and flu season. The pungent or spicy flavor, which warms the body and opens the lungs is the associated flavor - our friend pumpkin spice, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice does both these things, and is a wonderful example of a medicinal, seasonal food (when not in m&m form!) Metal is associated with the color white and many white foods help alleviate dryness, considered the most common cause of illness and dis-ease during autumn. We can cook longer, slower dishes, infusing them with warmth and helping us to slow down.

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Seasonal autumnal foods which reflect the autumnal white color - the blanching of the vibrancy of late summer and the contraction of the natural world include pears, apples, bok choy and cabbage, celery root, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, endive, turnips and mushrooms. Most of these are also beneficial for the lung system. Pears are a traditional remedy for lung ailments and western researchers have identified a mucus thinning component in pears which helps people with asthma breathe easier

Meals to try are roasted cauliflower soup (roast florets in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then puree with chicken stock), chopped celery root and fennel salad, leek and potato soup, and poached pears. Here’s my recipe. (Oh and pick up some good quality pumpkin spice blend or make your own - a wonderful addition to poached pears or baked apples!)

Poached Pears - serves 4

4 pears, any variety
Water or tea to cover, about 4 cups (try Earl Grey for a taste of elegance)
Spices to taste: try cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, and star anise

For Asian pears, use an apple corer to hollow them. Regular pears can be cut in half and the core scooped out. Bring water or tea to a simmer in a medium sauce pan - add the pears and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Lift out with a slotted spoon. Delicious with a drizzle of honey, a natural antimicrobial and lung moistener.

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6 strategies for an easy (well, easier!) whole foods or elimination diet

What’s the most important part of a ‘healthy diet’? That you do it! Finding a way of eating that nourishes your body appropriately, but is also realistic and can be maintained over the long term through busy work lives, family demands, unexpected changes in routine, budget and energy, can be daunting! I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but in my years of developing a sustainable way of eating for me and my family, I’ve come to rely on a few foods, recipes and strategies that I’d like to share - you don’t have to go from zero to making your own coconut milk from scratch in one day (although it’s actually pretty easy!)

My partner and I mostly avoid grains, processed foods, sweetened foods and dairy, and emphasize loads of organic veggies and fruit, grass fed and organic meat and eggs, unprocessed fats and bone broth and organ meats. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we eat a diet emphasizing damp reducing foods and seasonal eating. These tips and recipes reflect that, and I hope will be especially valuable for those who have been precipitated into dietary change by illness and need easy and immediate ways to start eating in a way that helps them feel better.

Number 1: Planning and Prepping

How much of this you need to do depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re doing an elimination program or following a whole foods diet for the first time, you might need to invest in a kitchen overhaul to have some basic equipment and pantry supplies. Here’s some great advice from the Whole30, and my must-haves include:

  • A good knife and cutting board
  • Storage containers so you can make food ahead. I like mason jars and tiffins or glass ware, but you can also put a plate over a bowl like granny did before tupperware!
  • A good basic cookbook like Whole30, Practical Paleo or 30 Day Guide to Paleo. These three all have helpful ideas and instructions for ‘building blocks - see below!
  • Spices! Get a few mixes if you are starting from scratch, and honestly, quality matters with spices. If you don’t have a local fancy spice shop or that’s a pain, shop at mine! Think curry, chili, pumpkin pie spice and italian seasoning

2. Building blocks

This is my single most important recommendation. If you’re pressed for time or energy, don’t worry about following complicated recipes. Cook simple single foods that can be combined to make a meal. Think proteins, carbs or starches, veggies, toppings and sauces. If you have a couple from each category on hand, you can always throw together a yummy meal that fits your food needs without having to create anything from scratch. Here are a few of my faves and check out my Healthy + Easy pinterest board for more.

  • Oven roasted chicken drumsticks + cooked greens + baked sweet potato + mustard vinaigrette
  • Grilled porkchop + mashed butternut squash + steamed green beans with slivered almonds, melted ghee and pumpkin pie spice
  • Baked salmon + chopped romaine lettuce + kalamata olives + chopped apple + capers + balsamic vinaigrette
  • Chopped cooked chicken + mixed cooked veg + coconut milk + thai curry paste + fish sauce
  • red lentils with ghee and curry + sliced hard boiled egg + braised red cabbage + mashed potatoes 

3. Canned Fish is your Friend!

Many ‘grab and go’ foods are grain based, sweet or carb-heavy, super processed, or just not satisfying enough to serve as a meal: granola bars, crackers, protein bars, trail mix. Canned fish is a healthy, fast and economical protein source and more versatile than you might think! (here’s an article about safety concerns with eating fish - upshot, benefits outweigh the risks!) 

My go-to faves: tuna or salmon salad with homemade mayo and mixins like apples, grapes, capers or pickles. Tuna or salmon patties with salsa, vinaigrette or caper mayonnaise. Sardines on a big salad. Canned salmon ‘pasta’ with zoodles. There's loads more on Pinterest.

4. Think outside the bun

Looking for substitutes for super easy foods like crackers and bread? Don’t bother with fussy imitations, think about vehicles for easy speedy proteins. Try the current instagram star, sweet potato toast

Other ideas:

  • Chard or lettuce leaf rollups
  • Thickly sliced oven fried potatoes
  • Baked Potato
  • Cucumber slices
  • Apple or melon slices

If it’s flat, you can use it as toast.

My fave combos:

  • Tuna salad on green apple slices
  • Salmon salad on potato wedges
  • Chicken salad in chard rollups (remove the stalk from a leaf of swiss chard (look for a tender one)

5. Know your search terms

If you’re looking for recipes and inspiration, try using these search terms to get useful results. I used to use “gluten free” but as gluten free has become more mainstream, I now find many of the recipes include premade mixes as well as high sugar content, margarine etc and are really just gluten free versions of standard american foods. If that’s what you want - a fluffy frosted birthday cake for your friend with celiac - perfect, but if you’re looking for whole food, unprocessed and low or no sugar options, try these instead:

Search Terms to try on google or pinterest: Paleo, primal, nourishing, whole foods, whole30 grain free

6. Have a Sh*t Hitting the Fan Plan

It happens to all of us: everything goes to hell, and the time you set aside to chop or shop or cook is swamped by emergencies, work or illness. Now what? Stop right now and think of a few emergency back up plans - they will vary depending on your food restrictions and preferences, as well as the options available where you live, but some of my faves are:

  • rotisserie chicken from the health food store,
  • throwing leftovers in the freezer to pull out in an emergency (cook double for this purpose),
  • pre-chopped and ready to steam veggies or salad from the grocery store,
  • takeout like thai curries, prepared foods from the deli case or salad bar.
  • grocery delivery including ready to eat options such as Good Eggs .
  • ask for help!

I hope this has given you some food for thought in transitioning into a whole foods way of eating or dealing with temporary food restrictions. There’s a mountain of material available in books and online with tons more hints, tips and strategies, but whatever you do, stop and enjoy what you’re eating, keep the focus on your health and the benefits of nourishing your body and the planet wholesomely, and remember that sometimes your best is good enough. Ess in gezunterhayt! (Eat in good health!)

PS why do I talk so much about food? Because I’m a holistic physician as well as a skin care maker. Happy skin comes from the inside out as much as from choosing the right skincare. Stay tuned for my best skin healing recipes coming soon.

 

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Making Passover Special on a Grain-free Diet

More and more folks are following gluten free, grain free or other kinds of whole food style diets for health reasons. A friend of mind asked his community for ideas on how to make the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover special, given his totally grain free daily diet. It's a great question, and a good idea for all of us to think about how folks who are excluded from the traditional ways we mark special, holy and cultural celebrations can connect and be in community.

Jews observe the eight days of Passover by not eating any 'hametz' - grain products that might have risen  in anyway - basically no grain products (or legumes in many communities) except for matzah. If you're following a paleo, gluten free, grain free or other elimination style diet, you're already eating that way all year.

So how to make the holiday feel special?

If you’re not changing WHAT you eat, change HOW you eat. A special set of dishes for Passover is something most observant families have - why not get a special set of Passover plates and glasses, (get a fun mismatched set at a thrift store) or fresh table linens that will connect you to the ‘reason for the season’. 

Depending on your energy level, this might be a fun time to experiment with new recipes that are within your restrictions. Like recreations of traditional recipes (check out this squash kugel from Elana’s Pantry, instead of potato kugel, and her tzimmes recipe too. (I personally loathe tzimmes, but you do you, tzimmes lovers!)

Check out some other recipe options like paleo macaroons, and Elana's Pantry really has the best collection of grain free Passover recipes online, including gefilte fish.  If that's not festive to you because you’re making paleo gefilte fish throughout the year, I’m impressed with your yiddishkeyt!

Sephardi (North African, Southern European and Middle-Eastern) style haroset (a fruit paste that represents the mortar the Israelites used to build the pyramids) with dried fruit, toasted nuts and spices lasts much longer than Ashkenazi (Northern and Eastern European) style made with fresh apples, and can be a sweet energy boost with a Passover flavour all week long. - here’s a basic recipe that you can make with any dried fruit and spices. Traditional choices would include raisins, figs, almonds and pistachios, spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Moroccan Jews traditionally roll these into little balls, which would be a treat any day.

Passover is a commemoration of a people’s liberation from bondage - that’s what we reenact at the Seder table. The restrictions on grain foods except for flat matzah represent the haste with which we escaped Egypt, not even stopping for our bread to rise. But it is also a celebration of the earth’s liberation from winter and the rebirth of spring. It is this celebration of the earth’s renewal that give us many of the foods we are instructed to eat and to display on the Seder plate. Revel in the miracle of spring, a celebration almost all cultures share, by seeking out seasonal produce, fresh local flowers, or planting herbs for your windowsill. Hag Sameach, may all be happy, may all be liberated!

 

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Kitchen wisdom for PMS symptoms

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees medicine as a continuum. Herbs are not only things you'll take as teas or pills when you're ill. They begin with food, and travel all the way to toxic substances (most modern drugs would fall into the latter category). We like to begin treatment with the most gentle, non-toxic approach, and only move into more possibly damaging substances and interventions if necessary. This philosophy of always beginning at the simplest, least interventionist solution is a big part of why I chose to become a holistic health practitioner and is my guiding philosophy. It's spelled out very beautifully by Western herbalist Susun Weed in Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition

In that spirit, I'd like to share some simple solutions for a common source of misery: premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headaches, moodiness and irritability. In Chinese Medicine, these are generally understood as imbalances in energy flow. If lifestyle changes like movement, dietary tweaks and rest don't shift your symptoms, level up to working with a practitioner and you'll likely find relief with acupuncture and herbs. But let's begin at the beginning - with some kitchen remedies by symptom. Enjoy (and feel better!)

Learn more with my previous article on easing PMS symptoms, and for more on food and healing in Chinese Medicine, check out Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett and Real Food All Year by Nishanga Bliss

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The Whole Beet

I’m a huge beet fan - and whether at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, the nicest, freshest looking beets always come with their tops attached. For a long time, I was stymied by the tops and how to use them. I would remove them as soon as I got the beets home, as you’re supposed to do with carrots and other root veggies, to keep the juices in the roots, and cook the beets, while the greens would rapidly wilt in my fridge until I woefully composted them a few days later.

Until, that is, I found the simplest way to cook the whole beet - tops and bottoms into one delicious dish. I make this several times a month, and throughout most of the year - lucky me, beets are available to me locally year round. At this time of year, this is a wonderful, solid veggie dish that can be eaten warm, cold or at room temperature. Check out my recent blog post for more hot weather veggie dishes.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, as in Ayurveda and other traditional systems, foods and herbs are all part of the same system, which understands the many subtle influences of substances on the body, and uses them to correct dis-ease and imbalances. Beets are cool and sweet energetically, nourishing the blood, benefiting the liver and calming the spirit, making them a wonderful food for all times of year, but especially if we’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and overheated. The golden beets are lighter than the red ones, and make a nice change (they also don’t stain your fingers, countertop and cutting board!)

Beets & Greens in Vinaigrette

(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian )

measurements are all approximate - this is a very forgiving recipe!

  • 1-2 bunches of beets with their greens (about 4-6 medium sized beets)
  • 1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2-3 tablespoons good quality vinegar (balsamic, white balsamic, red or white wine vinegar, or even apple cider vinegar)
  • ¼ - ½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove the tops from the beets, and give the roots a rinse and quick scrub if they have visible dirt or chunks of soil. Add them whole to the boiling water and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until a knife inserted into the beet sinks in easily. (In the wintertime I will often roast the beets, wrapping them in foil and roasting at 400F for 30-40 minutes). While the roots are cooking, carefully wash the tops - you don’t want any grit between your teeth! There’s no need to dry them.

When the roots are cooked, drain and let cool. Rinse out the pot (carefully - the beets may have left dirt!), refill and bring to  boil. Add the greens and cook for 5 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside. When the roots are cool enough to handle, slip them out of their skins. A knife is handy to slice the end off, where the tops were attached. Dice or cut into quarter moons.

Make the vinaigrette - I usually do this right in the bowl I plan to store or serve the beets in. Place the mustard in the bottom of the bowl, and add the vinegar. Using a whisk (this the THE secret to creamy, delicious French style vinaigrette!), beat the mustard and the vinegar together. Drizzle in the oil while whisking, until you have creamy, tangy, emulsified, glorious deliciousness. You can taste and adjust by adding a little more oil or vinegar if you like. Add the beets and greens and toss - best done when the veggies are still warm from cooking. You can serve right away, but they benefit from sitting for a few hours to let the dressing soak into the veg.

This will keep for quite a few days in the fridge, and can be eaten as a veggie side or served on top of a green salad.

A votre santé!


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Best Veggie Recipes for Hot Weather

It's a principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine a lot of folks find hard to swallow - cooked vegetables are preferable to raw. Raw vegetables need to be 'cooked' by your body to make their nutrients available - you can ease the stress on your bod by doing the cooking ahead of time. Especially if you suffer from indigestion, bloating or other digestive ailments, make the switch to cooked veggies (and swear off those kale caesars!) and you'll feel the difference.

So what to do in hot weather when the thought of a piping hot dish of veggies sounds horrible? Meet the cooked salad! Most cultures serve vegetables this way in summer - here's a few options I love for getting easy to digest veggies on the menu when the weather's beastly.

1. Salade Niçoise. This classic dish from the south of Frances is easy to whip up. Plate boiled potatoes, hardboiled egg, blanched green beans, canned (or grilled) tuna, capers, olives (oil cured  (known as Niçoise) olives are traditional, but any black ones will do) and dress with a lemony or white wine vinaigrette for a robust main course salad that makes a great packed lunch. Here's recipe from Saveur that bulks it up with cooked beets - yum!

2. Gado Gado. This addictive dish from Indonesia has infinite variations - but the version I like to make combines cooked potatoes, green beans, bean sprouts, greens and tofu, with a spicy, umami peanut sauce for the perfect hot weather concoction. You could sub out tofu for chicken, and peanuts for almonds or tahini, depending on your dietary restrictions. Saveur has a delicious looking, if rather complicated, version. I'd advise skipping the shrimp chips!

3. Fermented vegetables. The natural fermentation process 'cooks' the vegetables without heat, and the beneficial bacteria produced help keep your digestion happy. The end result is a healthy veggie dish you can add to any meal without cooking, chopping or heating - after you make them, you just open the jar and spoon them out! There's endless recipes for naturally fermented veggies out there, for every taste. I recently made Korean-style spicy zucchini spears with some baby zukes from the farmers market (that's them with tons of garlic, scallions, ginger and chili in the pic). I adapted this recipe to make my pickles. Not everyone can tolerate the amount of spicy flavor in these (read about how hot tea and spicy foods can cool you down), but I love it.

Enjoy some cooked veggies on hot day - you'll make your stomach, and your acupuncturist, very happy!

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