Wednesday, June 29

Soup for Supper in SUMMER?

Sure, why not? You may think soup is just for the cooler months, but even if you aren't interested in the wonderful array of cold soups available in summer (gazpacho, cantaloupe, pea and mint, just to name a few!), there are plenty of ways to whip up a pot of comforting, soothing warm soup in summer without sending the heat index through the roof. One of my favorites is a simple miso soup with root vegetables and greens. Miso soup is light and brothy and won't weigh you down, and yet by virtue of the fact that it is made with miso paste, seaweed, and often root vegetables, energetically speaking it is incredibly grounding and stabilizing- and that's some energy we can all use in the busy, active summertime. This is the perfect thing to make for someone who is on the mend either from an illness or a surgery (the firming, contracting energies of these ingredients actually help us to "come back together"), and is also just the ticket on a day when you need something soothing, relaxing, and comforting- perhaps after an active and busy day of running around engaging in summer fun, or to counteract a recent indulgence in sweets or alcohol, both of which are refined therefore energetically create a spike and crash in the body's energy, making us feel uprooted and unstable as opposed to grounded and steady. To benefit from all of that grounding energy while also keeping things light and relaxed, I like to add a few handfuls of chopped greens to a miso soup, which provide an uplifting energy that is flexible and expansive yet mellow and balanced. To make it a complete meal, simply add a protein such as cubes of tofu or tempeh or pieces of mild white fish, and serve it alongside some cooked brown rice or other grain or with some nice crusty whole grain bread. Follow the recipe below for a mellow, comforting soup that will soothe your heart and soul without overheating you this summer!

3-4 cups fresh water
1- 1 1/2 tablespoons miso
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and sliced into thin rounds
1/2 medium daikon radish, scrubbed and cut into thin half-moons or quarters (if daikon isn't available, use regular red radish chopped into thin rounds)
1/2 large sheet of kombu seaweed, torn or broken into small pieces (if the seaweed is tough, soak for 10 minutes and drain beforehand)
2-3 handfuls of kale or collard greens, washed well and chopped into thin slivers

1/2 block tofu or tempeh, cut into small cubes OR several ounces mild, flaky white fish (optional)
several shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried, chopped into pieces or thin slices (optional)
1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil (optional)

Bring water to a boil, then add all ingredients except for miso and kale/collard greens (including . mushrooms and tofu/tempeh if using- if using fish, do not add yet). Turn down to medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes until broth has become fragrant and root vegetables and seaweed are becoming tender. If using fish, cooked white fish or thin pieces of raw white fish can be added at this point to this lightly bubbling broth- simmer until fish is cooked. When all ingredients have cooked, add leafy greens and continue to cook covered on medium-low heat only a few more moments until the greens wilt and become tender.

At this point, turn off heat completely, and with a ladle or cup remove a small amount of the hot broth into a cup or small bowl. Dilute the 1 tablespoon of miso into this removed broth, mix and mash well to dilute completely. Then add this diluted miso and broth back into the pot and stir, so that all flavors combine. The reason for this step is that the miso will not dilute well if added directly to the larger amount of broth and vegetables. Taste the soup and add a little more miso using the same dilution method if a stronger, saltier taste is desired, remembering not to add too much- miso is a powerfully healthful ingredient meant to be used in small doses. Once the miso has added, do not ever bring the soup back to a boil as it will destroy the positive active bacteria that a great health benefit of fermented miso. The soup is now ready to serve, and if serving this as a main meal, I like to add a light swirl of unrefined sesame oil and mix throughout in order to impart some healthy fat and depth of flavor to the soup- skip this step if serving this soup with other, richer or fattier dishes in a meal or if serving it as a simple appetizer.

Either bolstered with some protein and served alongside some fluffy brown rice as a full meal, or enjoyed in its simplest form as a light vegetable soup, this soup is sure to make you feel good all over- and it is the perfect balancing note for a busy, celebratory summer holiday! Eat up and enjoy in good health!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Tuesday, May 31

Having Fun With Vegetables: Baby Bok Choy

It occurred to me that once in a while it would be nice to highlight a particular healthful ingredient and give a few examples of how to use it; that way you have a practical starting point to incorporate a new and wholesome food into your routine. Leafy green vegetables are one of the most important elements of a healthy diet, and certainly one of the most sorely lacking elements in the modern American diet. Baby bok choy is a handy leafy green that is super easy to clean, prep, and cook, and it cooks up nice and tender for those who are still getting accustomed to sturdier greens. While it is often associated with Asian cuisine, and does indeed frequently turn up there, you'll also find it popping up more and more on menus in all different contemporary restaurants, so keep an eye out for it and consider sometime swapping the go-to spinach for some baby bok choy. If prepared correctly and not overcooked, it should be tender but not mushy, with flavors of both sweetness and subtle bitterness, and should be a lovely shade of bright green. It is suited very well to Asian inspired sautés, stir fries, and wok dishes, but since you may be familiar with using it or eating it that way already, I thought I'd give you some unexpected alternatives to mix things up a bit. Baby bok choy is one of the most frequently prepared veggies in The World's Tiniest Kitchen, due to it's nutritional content but also its ease and convenience, and I use it as the leafy green in a variety of recipes without feeling the least bit restricted- try these ideas and then have some fun experimenting on your own! Both recipes I have provided here are great for the hot days we are currently experiencing, to fill you up without weighing you down.

(Unfortunately, I do not have photos to accompany these meals, my camera was out of commission, but these are extremely simple and easy meals so you will get the gist.)

French Lentil and Quinoa Mediterranean Pilaf

You will need:

French or "puy" lentils
Olive oil or flaxseed oil
Baby Bok Choy
Sea salt

French lentils, sometimes called "puy lentils", are used for this recipe because they retain their shape when cooked rather than coming apart like other lentils.

Cook french lentils and quinoa separately and cool to room temperature.

(leftover lentils and quinoa from a separate meal are particularly convenient for this recipe- I will usually cook a pot of grains and a pot of beans and then use each in various recipes and meals over the course of 2-3 days, and then it's time to make more. This saves time, money, space, and mental energy because part of the question of what to make is answered for you, and you can just keep trying different things with your building blocks!)

Combine both lentils and quinoa in roughly equal measures in a large bowl. Add shredded carrots, capers, flaxseed or olive oil, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Toss to coat all ingredients, and then season with oregano, dill, and a small amount of sea salt (capers are already very salty), tossing again to distribute herbs. Leave to sit covered to allow flavors to combine.

Then cut each small head of baby bok choi by placing it on a horizontal on the cutting board, cutting off the tip of the bulb end and discarding, and then continuing to make short vertical cuts the rest of the way across so that the greens appear almost shredded. Continue until all baby bok choy is cut (figure about 2 small heads per person, depending on their size, which varies greatly) and submerge all of the chopped bok choy in a large bowl of cool water, moving it around with your hands to thoroughly wash. After washing in the bowl thoroughly, transfer to a colander and rinse thoroughly with new fresh water, discarding the dirty water from the bowl. (Sometimes rinsing well in a colander is enough, but baby bok choy has a tendency to retain dirt and grit from the ground in the little crevices, so better safe than sorry- believe me.) Once clean and rinsed, transfer to a skillet and sprinkled with a few tablespoons of water only. Cover and bring to medium-high heat only for a moment or two to get the skillet steamy, and then turn down to simmer covered on low until the greens wilt but remain bright green and crisp, only several minutes- it cooks very quickly. (This technique is called water sauté and is very useful for preparing leafy greens before use in a variety of recipes; it cuts down on the amount of oil needed, the exposure to heat needed, and produces a tender but vibrant taste. ) If you aren't sure when the baby bok choy is done, err on the side of undercooked, as it is a quickly cooking and will continue to soften once removed from heat. Immediately drain it through a strainer and toss around to cool slightly.

Once slightly cooled but not cold, combine the cooked baby bok choy into the large bowl of other ingredients and toss with tongs to combine and coat all ingredients thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, and add more oregano, dill, lemon juice, olive/flaxseed oil, and capers or sea salt if necessary. Less is more with these last two ingredients- a little goes a long way. This is a delicious one-dish meal for a hearty but cool lunch on a warm day- enjoy!

Tempeh Tacos

You will need:

Plain organic tempeh
Wholegrain corn tortillas (I use Food for Life Sprouted Corn Tortillas, but if you can't find them, use another brand as long as it's made from whole ground yellow corn and not refined corn- and do buy organic, since much corn is genetically modified)
Frozen organic sweet corn
Baby bok choy
Pumpkin seeds
Chili Powder
Unrefined Sesame Oil
Sea salt
Fresh lime (optional)

Cut tempeh into small cubes, and spread out in a skillet along with a small amount of frozen sweet corn (the sweet corn is an accessory in this recipe, not a main ingredient). Pour about half an inch of water into the bottom of the skillet and bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer covered about 8-10 minutes. While simmering, chop onion into small pieces and peel garlic. Next, toast pumpkin seeds in a separate clean dry skillet over low heat until they begin to smell fragrant and turn slightly green-brown, do not toast until dark brown. Set aside. Chop and wash baby bok choy according to method described above, and spread the cut and washed baby bok choy on top of tempeh and corn in the skillet. Make sure there is still a very small amount of water in the bottom of the skillet, which will steam the baby bok choy. Turn the heat briefly higher again to accommodate the cold bok choy, then cover skillet and turn heat back to low for several minutes, just until bok choy looks slightly wilted but still bright green and crisp. Drain all ingredients into colander and toss around to cool, leave to drain thoroughly. Using the same skillet (dry with a cloth first), heat 1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil over medium-low heat and sauté first onions until translucent and fragrant, adding in garlic part way through until fragrant but not browned. While onions and garlic are cooking, place corn tortillas into the oven on a low temp to heat. Then combine the cooked tempeh, corn, baby bok choi, and toasted pumpkin seeds into the skillet with the cooked onions and garlic over very low heat, and mix to combine all flavors. Season with chili powder and sea salt, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice if desired, and transfer to a large bowl. Remove tortillas from oven once soft and warm, and serve in a stack alongside the bowl of the tempeh and vegetable mixture, filling each soft taco as you go. This is a fun, spicy and flavorful meal that is very filling but won't weigh you down- dig in!

Now that you have two ideas for how to use baby bok choy, go forth and have fun with these and other ideas!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Thursday, May 26

Balancing the Plate: Inspiration for Healthy, Easy, and Balanced Meals

After my last post about the importance of maintaining balance, it's a perfect time to talk about how the idea of balance applies to structuring meals. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a boring step by step tutorial or a set of stifling rules for how your meals must be composed in order to be healthy- rather, it's a look at how easy and simple it can be to throw together a healthy and delicious meal without a lot of effort or forethought, simply by following some basic guidelines.

Much in the same way that we need to maintain balance in our lives by prioritizing supportive and beneficial practices of self care that keep us healthy, happy, and grounded, we also need to maintain balance on the plate in order to create a healthful, stable, and flexible condition in the body. We need nutritious, wholesome, natural foods in combinations that provide our body with the necessary nutrients in proportions that allow our body to maintain balance in order for us to be healthy, strong, and functioning optimally. The point here is to get your nutritional needs met without having to spend all your time strategizing, and to do so in a way that's pretty easy, super tasty, and flexible enough to keep things fun and interesting.

Some of you may be familiar with the term Macrobiotics and the school of thought and practice that it describes. Most people who are casually aware of it think of it as a dietary system, but it extends beyond that into a way of life. People harbor all kinds of preconceived notions about macrobiotics, from the good to the bad, often settling on an assumption that it is a super-restrictive and "clean" way of eating that allows for little more than brown rice and vegetables. But the truth is that the main principle of macrobiotics is all about Balance, not restriction. It means the food we eat is chosen in a way that balances the conditions in the body to allow for optimal digestion, assimilation, nourishment of our organs and bodily systems, and that creates physical, emotional, mental, and energetic harmony. While there are general guidelines that apply broadly, it is a system that can be and should be modified and personalized depending on the individual needs of the person and the situation they're in; and the most important and always constant part of the approach to eating is the reliance on natural, wholesome foods in the appropriate proportions to create and maintain balance.

But this post isn't about teaching you how to be macrobiotic or encouraging you to be, although I will happily teach you how to implement macrobiotic principles into both your diet and your life if you are interested. Rather, this post is to help you and anybody out there to adapt principles of balance into planning and creating wholesome, natural meals in a way that is intuitive to you but also easy and fun. Being that I began my training in nutrition specifically with a focus on macrobiotics and it is still one of the main schools of thought that informs my approach, much of my cooking style has developed based in the general principles of macrobiotic philosophy, specifically the emphasis on a plant-based, natural diet of wholesome and unprocessed foods combined in ratios that are supportive of the body. But I am also a modern person living in the real world, in New York of all places, and I believe in flexibility and being realistic and being free to do what feels good, while always keeping one's intutive sense of one's individual needs at the center of one's awareness. And I know that my clients have varying needs, desires, physical make-ups, and schedules, so rather than give them "rules", I teach them how different foods work in the body and what foods and proportions create and sustain optimal health and balance, while encouraging them to allow for creativity, flexibility and the dictations of their own needs all while working within health supportive guidelines.

To help you with the inspiration side of things and to give an idea of how a healthy meal comes together, the following are descriptions and pictures of the kinds of meals that I cook for myself and my family, the meals and foods that I teach my clients how to prepare and eat; and the idea is that you take the ingredients and combinations presented here and think of them not so much as a recipe but as a guide for creating these meals using the inspiration presented and then using them as jumping off point for creating your own new combinations for future meals. You'll notice that many ingredients appear several times or even frequently but in different variations or combinations; this is because I rely on certain healthful standard choices in my meal preparation (unrefined sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, certain whole grains) and also because this is a sampling of what I cooked over a particular period of time, meaning it reflects different and interesting combinations of the foods I had in the kitchen at that time, rather than requiring a large array of different ingredients. This will help you to get in the habit of smaller shopping trips, cooking for more than one meal at a time, and then using what you make to create various different and satisfying meals; thus minimizing effort, time, and money. Get to cooking, and enjoy!

As simple as it gets: a plate of brown rice, chickpeas (cook your own or use organic from a can), steamed green beans and steamed kabocha squash (which is like a small, dense pumpkin). This meal is complete with a healthy fat for flavor and nutrition, hence the homemade miso-tahini dressing to the right- simply mix a bit of tahini paste with a small amount miso paste and a few tablespoons of water until desired consistency is achieved, then drizzle all over the plate of goodness! This is a perfect example of the standard balanced meal, and the ingredients can easily be changed out for others from the same category.

Brown rice couscous (or you could use whole wheat couscous) tossed with lightly sauteed carrots, onions, and baby golden beets, then mixed with raw spinach leaves into a room temperature salad dressed in a zesty olive oil vinaigrette. This idea can be made into many different variations by switching out the greens to arugula or watercress or another salad green, switching the grain to millet or quinoa, or throwing in some cubed avocado. To make this a more substantial and filling meal, simply top with some lean protein; either beans, lentils, or some grilled fish or other lean meat would be the perfect accompaniment.

A side dish of grapefruit and avocado salad, made by combining peeled grapefruit segments (easily peel the clear skin away from each segment and toss into a bowl), cubed avocado, sliced scallions, and a very small amount of dijon mustard to taste. Mix well to combine all of the flavors, and serve as a breakfast or brunch dish with whole grain rye toast and soft boiled eggs, or serve over a beautiful bunch of salad greens such as mâche or mesclun as a side salad for lunch or dinner, alongside an entree of your choice.

A simple but hearty breakfast: leftover brown rice warmed on the stove and tossed with cubes of steamed tofu, seasoned with basil, sea salt, and unrefined sesame oil. To make this a complete meal for lunch or dinner, simply add some green vegetables, such as either roasted broccoli or asparagus, or sauteed kale or collard greens with seasoning of your choice, or even a simple green salad.

An easy, scrumptious vegetable side: cauliflower and acorn squash cut into cubes and roasted with unrefined sesame oil, garlic, and a bit of turmeric to bring out the flavor. This could be served with any meal and seasonings of your choice, but to balance the hearty and rich flavors and textures of the roasted vegetables, I served this alongside a lighter entree of broiled flounder with a miso glaze over a bed of quinoa topped with sauteed bok choi in olive oil. Or, it would go very nicely with the simple and light tofu meal described above.

A typical macrobiotic meal, combined into one main dish: cooked chickpeas and brown rice tossed with cooked arame seaweed and lightly sauteed kale, then mixed with unrefined sesame oil and sesame seeds, and served with a side of carrots sticks and cornichon pickles. This idea can be used to create countless takes on the one-dish meal: you can use a different kind of bean or a different whole grain, skip the seaweed if you like, or add some fish or lean meat into this mixture instead of beans for protein. The idea is to keep the balance and ease, and have fun with it!

Here's an idea for a quick last minute meal: this mixture can be used as a filling for quesadillas, sandwich wraps or crepes, or can be folded into an omelet, stuffed into thin slices of lean meats (see below), or simply served over a bed of cooked whole grains as it is here. This is something you can make from items stocked in the freezer and pantry when you're short on fresh stock: simply combine cooked black beans, thawed and drained frozen chopped spinach, thawed frozen organic corn, garlic (fresh or powder), onion (fresh or dried), and chili powder, along with olive oil, and simmer over low heat until warm and flavors have combined, then add toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Then it is ready to be enjoyed on it's own with a grain, or added into your meal of choice.

I enjoyed the mixture over some cooked whole grain polenta above (beans and polenta go very well together), and mixed the rest with leftover cooked quinoa and stuffed it into rolled thin slices of turkey for my husband's lunch, along with cut carrot sticks. (Read here about this lunch container and how ones like this can help you to save time, money, and effort in bringing lunch to work while encouraging healthy balance and proper portions.)

Here is a hearty, balanced meal of delicious goodness, clockwise from top right: a baked casserole made from cooked green lentils and cooked brown rice mixed with garlic, onions, chopped spinach, spices and herbs, and 1 beaten egg to hold it together and then baked in the oven; cooked arame seaweed dressed with a bit of unrefined sesame oil and rice vinegar; roasted parsnips and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) roasted with unrefined sesame oil, thyme, and sea salt; and lightly sauteed watercress. This meal was DELICIOUS! Again, this is one you can take and run with- try your own casserole ingredients using whatever protein and grain you have on hand, or try different combinations of starchy and sweet vegetables for roasting. The seaweed is optional but provides a wonderfully healthful boost!

A light dinner: red lentil soup with kombu seaweed served with sauteed collard green ribbons dressed in unrefined sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and a side of Mestemacher whole rye bread. I make various versions of red lentil soup all the time; another recent one contained chopped sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and parsnips and was seasoned with nutmeg and thyme, a different one cooked with chopped carrots and sweet corn and seasoned with garlic, turmeric, cumin, and paprika. Be creative! Soup is pretty failsafe- lots of room for experimentation.

Cooked chickpeas and sauteed tatsoi (a bitter Asian green; you can substitute kale, collards, or bok choi easily) with unrefined sesame oil, caramelized onions, garlic, and fresh ginger, and lightly sauteed buckwheat sprouts thrown in at the very end of cooking (any kind of sprouts would work), served over fluffy cooked millet and topped with a drizzle of tahini dressing, with a spoon of sauerkraut on the side. This meal was sooo tasty!

Sauteed tempeh (made from fermented soy beans) and watercress in unrefined sesame oil served with cooked black quinoa and thin-sliced red radishes. Black quinoa may be hard to find; you can easily use regular quinoa or red quinoa here, and since this is a very simple dish, season as you would like to pump up the flavor. If tempeh is not desirable or available, you could use tofu, a cooked bean of your choice, or a fish or lean meat of your choice.

Here's a version of one of my favorites, cabbage slaw. You can find my basic cabbage slaw recipe here, but I make this a bit different each time to keep it interesting and depending on what I have around. In this version, it's simply shredded Nappa cabbage, carrots, sweet corn, and toasted pumpkin seeds in a lemon juice and flaxseed oil dressing with a dash of sea salt. For my own breakfast, I served this with a scoop of fluffy cooked and seasoned millet as seen here.

For my husband's lunch, I filled thin slices of turkey breast with the seasoned millet and the served the cabbage slaw on the side, as seen here. Don't hesitate to use these meal ideas as a jumping off point for modifying them based on your own preference or needs, or for varying tastes of members of your family, as I did for us with this meal. Making a small change or addition in order to create two versions of one meal can be extremely simple once you get the hang of it. (Tiffins are very handy for transporting this type of balanced, three-part meal to work or elsewhere!)

Here is another riff on the bean-vegetable-grain formula, which can be made in literally endless combinations and kept interesting by clever and creative use of seasonings such as gomasio and tekka, both macrobiotic/Japanese condiments used here, or simply having fun with whatever herbs, spices, and seasonings are in your own cabinets. Here we have aduki beans mixed with black quinoa and cooked kombu seaweed (optional) and seasoned with unrefined sesame oil, gomasio (sesame seeds ground up with sea salt), and tekka (a condiment made from ground root vegetables and miso), topped with white turnips that have been cut into matchsticks and simmered with a splash of water, unrefined sesame oil, and tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) until the liquid is absorbed/reduced, and accompanied by a simple salad of chopped mizuna greens dressed with flaxseed oil, apple cider vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt. If mizuna greens are not available or desirable, arugula or watercress would work perfectly with this meal and are both easy to find.

This last one I don't have a photo for, but it is so easy and simple that it doesn't need one: cooked brown rice pasta (any whole grain pasta will do, such as whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta) tossed with fresh basil, cooked kidney beans, sauteed arugula, sweet peas, olive oil, and garlic. This is comfort food at it's best and easiest!

I am looking forward to hearing which ones you try and how you make them your own; remember, once you have the basic proportions for health and balance in place, it's time to be creative and have fun with it!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Wednesday, May 4

The Art of Balance

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I do a vast amount of cooking in the World's Tiniest Kitchen. Just ask my husband, who is usually on dish duty- I'm pretty prolific. There's a lot of creative magic going on in there....along with plenty of reliance on old standbys and quick fixes when either inspiration or time are in short supply. Once you know the basics of what kinds of ingredients make a healthy, balanced, and wholesome meal, playing around with ingredients and combinations while using your imagination is, I believe, the best way to learn how to cook. It's how I learned, and it's still my favorite way to do things in the kitchen. However, no one can be a culinary wizard all the time, so it's important to have your kitchen set up in order to not only foster creativity but also to assist you in keeping things simple, easy, organized and accessible so that your cooking efforts can progress with ease- whether you're creating a new dish for the first time with wild abandon than knows no recipe, or recreating that same old favorite standby for the umpteenth time because it's healthy, easy, and you enjoy eating it every time.

Since my kitchen is about the size of the inside of a minivan (and that's being very generous), how I keep things organized and stored is absolutely crucial to my ability to cook balanced and interesting meals in anything resembling an orderly fashion. All it takes is one incidence of an open jar of tomato sauce crashing to the floor and splattering red goop all over every white wall and white appliance in sight to let you know that you cannot balance something too close to the edge of the top of the refrigerator, even if that was in fact the only spot of open space available. (Both my husband and I being over 6 feet tall helps our kitchen space situation- evidenced by how the top of the refrigerator is used regularly for extra prep and storage space). We've also learned the ingenuity of using the tops of the cabinets to store all of our pots and pans (again, see former discussion of height), which have to be placed in a certain particular order and stacking configuration in order for all of them to fit. Lastly, everything from the refrigerator shelves to every single cabinet is organized to best maximize the space we have- a place for everything, and everything in it's place, literally. I'm not saying it's perfect, and I'm not obsessive about it, but I've learned that balance is the key to keeping my kitchen in full swing and happy working order. With the significant space limitations we have and the amount of food shopping, cooking, and meal-brainstorming that I do, it simply does not work any other way.

One particularly demonstrative example is the small cabinet above our stove. It's awkwardly high and very small, and you have to reach over the stove hood to get to it- it is basically only suitable for two categories: things I need to grab at quickly and regularly while cooking (oils, pot holders, and flame deflector- very helpful when cooking your own beans and grains), and items that are removed and replaced often that don't quite fit in anywhere else (lunch tiffins, avocado saver, lemon juicer, mini grater- you realize everything does come in "mini" when you have a tiny kitchen!). This small, quirky storage space is essential for me because I use the items contained in it on a daily basis, and I need to be able to access them in an instant when moving swiftly through my morning cooking routine. However, as I mentioned, it's also small and therefore somewhat limited in how it can be organized, meaning that balance becomes a crucial element. Everything in there fits perfectly when each thing is more or less occupying it's given space. Because the space demands it, we purposely make an effort to keep it that way; it's not difficult to do, it just requires attention, and it makes everything work much more smoothly.

A few months ago, I started to notice here and there when I would reach up and into that mini cabinet that something was askew- nothing alarming, like finding a plastic baboon toy in the vegetable drawer (only those who are related to me by blood or marriage are familiar with that story), but more like finding the pot-holders tumbling over into the lunch containers, or the various kitchen implements sticking out at increasingly rakish angles, or the tea pot having a shoving contest with the french press. It was something I noticed vaguely each time, and it made things in there feel slightly disorderly and unsettled, which made my cooking routine just that slight bit more bumpy and disheveled, but by such a small fraction that I didn't take the time to correct it. It doesn't matter, I thought each time. It won't make a difference if I let that one thing come a bit undone.

Until one morning....

I came happily and sleepily into the kitchen to begin cooking my husband's lunch, which required reaching into that mischievous little cabinet above the stove. No sooner had I opened the tiny doors than suddenly I was at the bottom of a veritable avalanche of stainless steel tiffins clanging down on me, glass beverage carafes tumbling down on all sides and threatening to burst into shards around me, and all manner of non-threatening rubber fruit and vegetable shaped tools bouncing off of my head. I looked like a character in a slapstick routine who haphazardly contorts their arms and legs and chin to collect every falling object in some desperate attempt to retain order. Not, shall we say, the most relaxing way to wake up.

Bit by bit, with my noticing it but not acting on it, our mini cabinet up high- the happy and cozy resting place of so many of my daily cooking helpers- had become profoundly unbalanced. Each individual shift into this unbalanced state was perceived at the time as singular and insignificant; an item slightly out of place, something falling over where previously something else had stood to support it, a lack of space for something that belonged there because something else had crept in and taken up residence. But these shifts weren't just singular, and they were far from insignificant. There was a process of unbalancing happening, one domino falling at a time, and I let myself ignore it and remain unaware of the signs even as the imbalance grew into a state of barely restrained chaos - it must have, because that final morning, all it had taken was one tiny shift (and who knows what that was?) to make every item within that space spring out at me in utter pandemonium.

You might think I'm being perhaps just slightly hyperbolic here. Just a touch dramatic? Fair enough, and I admit I do love when a story like this can be polished into a perfectly fitting metaphor, but in this case it's for very good reason- later that very day, I found myself pondering the story of the cabinet and its Jack-In-The-Box surprise for me. "What happened?" I pondered with amusement. "Was I really paying that little attention? No. It must have just happened slowly, one slip at a time." And I could not help but fall face first into a full blown realization about how that completely describes what happens to me when I let the things that center, balance, and sustain me slip away....out of focus, out of priority, out of the rotation, off the schedule. You know, we all do thing at a time, we make little excuses about how we can't, shouldn't, won't have time to, are too tired to, or won't really be affected if we don't do that thing that we usually rely on to keep us feeling happy, grounded, taken care of and stable. But then it becomes a pattern of not doing it, it becomes the new norm, and it extends beyond just that thing, to that other thing, too. That other stabilizing, gratifying standby that we know will see us through, that we take for granted but deep down appreciate the value of....we let it go. Just this one time, and then we'll get back to it, right?

It all adds up. The skipped grounding and centering yoga class that we forfeited when we felt too busy with social obligations becomes two weeks away from the studio. The lunch prep ritual that saves money and provides healthy, tasty lunches gets pushed aside in favor of sleeping in those few more minutes and grabbing something quick but costly and less nutritious at the deli. The head-clearing, body boosting walk or run outside gets traded in for running around on errands, cramming in more and more to-do's that never seem to get done. The hour of reading before bed that we know helps us to turn off the activity of the day and prepare for rest becomes the hour for catching up on any last emails and doing dishes or laundry that didn't get done because we were....wait, what were we doing? Before we know it, we're unbalanced. And unbalanced is not a nice, healthy, happy, or stable place to be. It's feels like metal lunch containers and rubber lemons bouncing off of your head in every direction.

It happens to all of us, and after the morning of the kitchen mini-avalanche, I took that as an opportunity to revisit my own commitment to the practices and elements that keep me organized, grounded, stable, calm and peaceful, not to mention happy and joyful in life. It's a check-in we all need to do on a regular basis. I'm talking about both the big and the small things here, because they're equally important. The practices and rituals we engage in on a daily basis to keep us feeling like ourselves and to keep our lives operating the way we want them to are just as elemental to our overall well being as the larger scale choices and that support our long term initiatives and goals for what we want out of our lives. When we begin to ignore our own needs here and there, or make excuses about de-prioritizing the habits and practices that keep us feeling happy and taken care of, we slip out of balance...slowly at first, until suddenly things seem to crumble around us all at once. Therefore, in order to exist peacefully, happily, and healthfully, we have to maintain our balance by taking care to prioritize our needs each day and also to notice when we've begun to stray from ourselves so that we can come back to balance. That can mean different things for each of us, so what does that mean for you? What area of your own self-care have you been subtly paying less and less attention to lately? Exercising? Alone time? Shopping for and preparing healthy food? Engaging in nourishing hobbies? What warning sign, either physical, emotional, or mental, have you been stubbornly ignoring? And can you see how letting go of or neglecting to implement rituals and practices just for you in your daily life is pulling you further and further away from where you want to be? Be brave and take a may be surprised.

The good news is, just as imbalance can be arrived at bit by bit, so can balance be restored- one thing at a time. Our choices create a cyclical effect, and we can decide what we want to receive as the result of our actions. Look around and inside of you to find out what elements are keeping you off balance- is it an unhealthy habit or choice pattern that needs to be bidden farewell? Or a healthy one that needs to shift back into your schedule?- and address just one thing first. It doesn't have to be a radical shift, just an intentional one. Make a commitment to yourself that you will do this thing, just for you. Because you know it benefits you, and because you believe you deserve it. Once that feels comfortable and consistent, add in another, one step at a time. Think of it as building a foundation under a house- you build the most important support beams first, and then you build around them to create a structure that will hold up the entire house, come what may. Decide what is currently missing from your routine that keeps you feeling grounded, rested, flexible and happy, and start to implement those practices one by one- until you've built a foundation that can support you through anything that comes along!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Monday, March 14

Health: It's In Your Hands

Hi everyone!

It's been a busy few weeks here at WR, and it seems I have been absent from the blog for a while- but I'm back! With the return of Spring, it's a perfect time to refocus our efforts at staying balanced, healthy, and feeling great, and that means acknowledging how much that state of balance, health and happiness depends on our own conscious choices, practices, and patterns in our everyday lives. It isn't something that anyone else can do for us or force us to do. Our wellness is created by the choices we make in our lives: choices about how and where we spend our time and with whom, and choices about how we listen to and interpret the needs of our bodies; how we feed them, move them, and heal them when they are hurting.

We are the creators of our state of health and well being, and we have the power to recreate it and heal the areas that are hurting every day. Yet, so many of us shirk that responsibility, feeling that we aren't truly capable of taking care of ourselves in the ways needed to assure health and wellness; that it's too complicated, expensive, and too much work to take charge of our own well being. So we wait for someone else to tell us how to live, for an expert to confirm if what our intuition and common sense tells us is right, or in many cases, we just wait until a problem escalates and then expect a doctor to come in and fix, heal, and cure problems when we experience them. There is nothing wrong with seeking the help and advice of health professionals and doctors when we need information, support, and intervention when it comes to the healing of or dealing with a health related condition, but it is essential for us to realize that the true reality of our state of health comes down to what we choose to do, in our own time, in our own homes, with our own friends and families, on a daily basis, to take care of ourselves.

No matter how valiant the effort or how skilled and renowned a doctor or hospital is, we have to acknowledge that there is a limit to what medical intervention can do in the prevention and management of today's widespread health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, as discussed in this New York Times Well Blog post on When Home Life Trumps Health Care, simply because of the fact that what we do when we go home on a daily basis is what creates the ongoing state of health or illness in our bodies, and those choices cannot be forced or even overseen by our doctors- it's in our own hands. Doctors and hospitals can surely help you immensely and even save your life, but when you go home and go back to your own daily routine, it's up to you to make the decisions and choices that are going to bring you health and wellness in the long haul.

And what about the other experts? Well, as I know all too well from the understandably confused and frustrated first-time clients who come into my office and from my own time spent in the field, there are a LOT of conflicting opinions out there, and a lot of just plan bad information. My best advice? First, tune in to yourself: become focused and quiet, and ask yourself, right now, what you feel that you need in order order to bring more health and balance into your life. Do you need to be eating more vegetables and less fast food? Drinking less alcohol and more water? Do you need to be working fewer late nights and finding some more alone time for relaxation? Do you need to learn how to cook healthy, simple meals for yourself or your family? Do you need to take up a regular exercise routine? Do you need to learn how to food shop in a way that is inexpensive but still health-supportive and convenient? Do you need to begin to make and bring lunch to work in order to maintain energy throughout the day while also cutting expensive and unhealthy lunches out?

Then, ask yourself what supportive choices you need to be making in order to create that reality and actually make it real. Do you need to schedule in time in your weekly calendar to make planned food shopping trips so that your kitchen can be stocked for easy meal prep? Do you need to plan some social activities that revolve around something other than drinking and eating out? Do you need to enlist the help of someone to teach you how to shop for, prepare, and cook food that will be healthy and supportive for you while not breaking the bank or taking up all of your time? Do you need to re-organize your free time to include less procrastinating online and TV watching and more time enjoying of activities that bring you both joy and benefit to your emotional and physical health? Do you need to treat time to cook and eat as importantly as you treat your other obligations? Do you need to discover and implement, once and for all, an approach to eating and exercise that feels so natural and comfortable for you that you actually stick with it? It isn't as elusive as it sometimes seems, I promise- the key to maintaining health and wellness is answering the above questions for yourself with honesty, accepting your own responsibility in creating your state of health, and then making the choices, decisions, and rituals that ill support and sustain your own approach to health and wellness.

So, now what? Where do you go from here if you've answered the above questions and realized that between all of the conflicting advice out there and your own personal circumstances and challenges, you could really use some good solid information and some help in making these supportive choices and practices to create a new state of health and wellness? You'll need to call on someone to help and guide you that intuitively feels right to you; someone who provides you with the accountability that will help you in achieving your desired goals but who also possesses the awareness that your health, your body, and your wellness are ultimately your own creation- someone who will teach you a new way to live so that you can take care of yourself forever, rather than relying on an external system or person that ultimately cannot create or sustain your health and wellness for you. We all benefit immensely from help, support, information, tips, tools, and guidance, and those resources are available from professionals such as myself and many others who provide our clients with the beginning of a new relationship with health and wellness. The help obtained from these resources, however, can only be realized to its full potential when we are taking responsibility for how we live our own lives once we go home, and that means taking the initiative and prioritizing our needs for what will balance and sustain our state of well being.

If you realize that you have become an inactive participant or even just an onlooker in your health and wellness care (or lack thereof), it's time to take it back. I can tell you from plenty of professional and personal experience that it is what we do in day to day life, the choices we make for our own bodies, hearts, and minds, that creates wellness. It is what and how we eat, it is when and how we make time for ourselves to relax and unwind, it is if and how we express our emotions, how much we joyously move our bodies, and especially how we listen to our bodies when they are alerting us to something that is wrong and act accordingly. Pain , illness, disease and discomfort are all signals from the body that it is time to pay attention and make a change, and time to take action to bring back balance- we have the power in our own hands to do so. I am here to help you with ongoing information, support, and practical and natural tools for optimal nutrition and wellness according to your own unique needs, and will do so in a way that grows and fosters your ability to truly take care of yourself in your own life and by your own hands...please contact me at if you are interested in my help.

Your health is in your own hands: Hold onto it!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Saturday, January 22

Wellness Realized Hits the Streets to "Spread The Love"!

This past Friday I began the realization of a dream I have had for 8 years, ever since I first moved to New York City. I remember being struck and saddened when I first moved here by how many needy people one sees on a day to say basis, and while that number is still higher than we would like to believe, the unfortunate truth is that we start to not see these people; not really. We learn to look away or brush past without stopping when someone on the street or in the subway asks for change, food, or help. We learn to block out the looks, sounds, and smells of those who are living in desperate destitution. We start to find it difficult to pay any attention to because it's too sad, or too offensive, or too annoying in the middle of our busy day- besides, what can we really DO about it, anyway? Don't we have places to be and our own busy lives to live? And aren't we all just struggling to get by, never mind the additional burden of helping someone else?

That's where my dream came in. When I first lived in the city, I was working in the art world and making a startlingly low salary by New York City standards (yay for working in one of the least lucrative career fields in one of the most expensive cities in the world!), so I was making do but barely, with very little money to spare. I had lived in smaller European cities before and had spent significant time in NYC on many visits over the years, and I always took naturally to cities so my adjustment was not difficult. But that doesn't change the fact that all of a sudden seeing homeless and hungry people begging or scavenging on a day to day basis wore on me, both as a newcomer to the city and as a sensitive and empathetic person. While I certainly wasn't in a financial position to donate any real money to speak of, I immediately began to think about how I could come up with a plan to take what I had in terms of money and time and turn it into a way to directly help people who were suffering in New York City. That is when my dream was born, that very first year: to go to the store, purchase basic sandwich supplies that I would turn into packed lunches at home, and hand them out myself to the homeless and hungry in the streets of New York. Nothing fancy or large scale, just what I could afford and do with what time and money I had. But what appealed to me most about it was how direct it was- actually putting food right into the hands of the people who need it. How easy is that? I knew I could do that.

And yet, for some reason, it didn't come to pass. I thought about it a whole lot, for years- it would pop up in my mind, asking me to commit to at least trying it, since I had been wanting to for years. But it always got put off for one reason or another. I would sometimes find myself intentionally carrying around some item of food (a part of my lunch, or leftovers from a restaurant meal) until I saw someone who was needy who I would gladly hand it over to. And every single time, I would think...."You could do this for real. You could follow that dream. What's stopping you? It would be so easy...." And yet it still wouldn't happen. Over the years my hunger for charitable work led me to look into volunteer positions with New York Cares, Meals on Wheels, homes for the elderly in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and finally I settled on a position volunteering at C.H.I.P.S., the local soup kitchen in Brooklyn, one day a week for 6 months. I was satisfied with having finally settled on one organization and followed through on this impulse, and it was an extremely valuable experience. I was thrilled to be tangibly helping needy people and I was personally benefiting from the perspective that brings, but it was difficult to commit to a regular schedule there, because as a self-employed person my own work schedule is constantly shifting, and also, due to a (very fortunately) large amount of volunteers at this soup kitchen, I sometimes felt there wasn't really that much work for me to do when I was there. I was grateful and impressed at seeing this venerable soup kitchen working so well and helping so many people, but I felt that perhaps my own help could be more effective elsewhere, especially given my scheduling needs.

So that brings us to present day...I have been yearning for years to find a charitable outlet that directly helps and nourishes those in need, while also fitting into a construct that would be workable for me given what I have to offer in terms of money and time. It suddenly became clear to me that it was now time to follow my long held dream, my little organization of one, hitting the streets of NYC to hand out food to the homeless, hungry, and needy. Simple. Real. Perfect. Finally!

The same day I had this realization, several hours earlier before it had come to light, I was walking down a quiet street in Brooklyn and I found a $10 bill sitting discarded in the snow. I looked around, and there was no one anywhere nearby to ask if they had dropped it. I made sure, and then tucked it into my pocket, taking it as a sign of providence and a message to trust that all will be taken care of if we have faith and remain positive. Truth be told, at the exact moment I looked down saw the money I had been harboring real estate worries- my husband and I soon want to upgrade to a different home in the same neighborhood, and I sometimes wonder about how that will actually happen- so this was a much needed message of providence indeed, and I was happy to accept it! No sooner had I picked it up, though, that I began to think about how to constructively use it. What I benefited from was the message of bounty from the universe and the freedom from worry that it brought, but I felt that I wanted to use the money itself towards a charitable cause, in order to give that bounty back into the pool and let it benefit someone else's life in whatever small way it could. Later that evening, when pondering how for many reasons I was missing the charitable outlet in my life since stopping my work at the soup kitchen, I had the realization that it was time to follow my dream. And at that moment I knew exactly what the $10 was for. It would be the financial beginnings of Spread The Love! I began making lists.

Since I never abandoned my original idea and it was always floating around in the back of my mind at any given time, I didn't have to spend much time brainstorming. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. What: Sandwiches. Who: Homeless and hungry people. Where: Streets and subways of New York City. Now, some things had changed- I wasn't yet a certified nutrition professional when this dream first formed, so I did want to make a slight adjustment to the actual content of the sandwiches I'd be handing out in order to deliver optimal nutrition in a simple and easy package. And while I insisted that the food be good quality, it still had to be relatively inexpensive, because I was funding this project myself and I wanted to feed as many people as possible. It also had to remain simple, because part of the beauty of this plan is its pure simplicity and feasibility. Luckily, I had considered all of these things before, which is why I had settled on simple sandwiches; so all that was needed were a few adjustments in keeping with my now honed nutrition philosophy, and with the bonus of a Trader Joe's in my neighborhood for reasonably priced but good quality supplies, I was off and running. The next morning, I went out and bought what I would need: two large loaves of whole multi-grain bread, two jars of sunflower seed butter, two large jars of organic strawberry jam, and two bags of organic apples, along with plastic baggies for the sandwiches and brown paper bags to pack the lunches. I came home and got to work preparing the goods!

So, why did I choose this particular meal? For several reasons. The building blocks of healthy nutrition are complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, minerals and vitamins. I wanted to make a simple meal that could impart as much of those nutrients as possible, while still remaining relatively inexpensive and easy to transport, which would also not require refrigeration (I knew some people would be saving the food for later and did not have access to refrigeration) or pose a problem for those with certain food allergies and/or dietary constraints. You may not think of this, but some people who are hungry are still vegetarians. Or allergic to nuts. Or don't eat certain animal foods. Or don't digest dairy well. This is one of the valuable lessons I learned at the soup kitchen- just because someone is desperate doesn't mean they don't have their own particular wants and needs, and I wanted to honor those as best I could, especially because this meal takes those considerations in mind and still fits in keeping with my own approach to optimal nutrition which is that a diet based in wholesome, natural plant foods is best for health and wellness.

Whole multi-grain bread, due to its high whole grain content, provides complex carbohydrates for energy and stamina while also offering a high amount of fiber to aid digestion, along with protein which builds tissue and imparts strength, and essential minerals and vitamins offered from the whole grain in the bread. Sunflower seed butter is a handy alternative to nut butters, which are a common allergen, yet looks and tastes exactly the same as peanut butter (albeit more expensive), and offers a great source of easily digestible protein along with a high amount of healthy fat to keep the body nourished and able to carry out all of its multiple organ functions. Sunflower seeds also offer an impressive mineral profile and a decent amount of vitamins; minerals and vitamins are essential to health, bodily function and immune function, and they are often hard to obtain for those who are restricted to an extremely limited food supply. The jam is mostly there for flavor and a small amount of fruit vitamins, so I was sure to pick an organic, low sugar version made from organic strawberries and nothing artificial. The apple is there to provide additional fiber as well as crucial vitamins, namely Vitamin C, which is plentiful in apples and plays an important role in immune health.

As I made these Sunbutter and jam sandwiches , I was aware that I was quite literally "spreading the love" even before I hit the streets to actually Spread The Love, and so in every sandwich I carved a heart on the inside (just like I do when I make one for my husband), and as I pressed each sandwich together I said the words "I Love You" so that my intention and energy would be absorbed into this food and thus received by those eating it. Spread The Love is the name of this project because its purpose is to deliver love and nourishment through an act of kindness to those in need. The name feels absolutely perfect.

Once all the lunches were prepared -16 lunches in total for this first foray- I packed up my bag (and yes, it *happened* to be my love hearts bag, but only because it was the only bag I had that was the right size! we'll call it a happy accident) and set out in the snow to deliver them into the hands that needed them. I decided to stick to the subway trains and platforms first; I figured that would offer me the greatest likelihood of finding the people I was looking for in a concentrated area, especially since it was such a cold and snowy day and that type of weather tends to drive many needy people underground seeking warmth and safety. I plotted a route through some of the largest, busiest subway stations in Manhattan with the most trains coming through- Union Square, Herald Square, Times Square, Port Authority, and others- and at each one I would get off the train and canvas the station, walking up and down each platform for each different train, handing out the lunches to the needy people I found along the way. The first thing I noticed was that, given our learned tendency to overlook needy and homeless people as we are rushing from place to place in our day, I really had to keep my eyes peeled to find them. We are all so accustomed to brushing past the person asking for change, begging for food, or sleeping on the cold hard floor, that our eyes become trained in this aversion...and yet now I was actively seeking them out, looking for them, hoping to find them. And it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, but I did find them, and as I became enriched from this shift in perspective I committed to not turn away from these people anymore, to be aware of them at all times, and to help them whenever I could.

I decided on some ground rules early on for whom I would approach and how: I decided I would stick to mostly central, populated areas for the sake of safety and also to find people most easily, that I would ask each person before handing them some food in order to establish my intention, show that it was safe and out of kindness, and give them a choice in the matter (one person did actually say no), and that I would only offer food to those who were clearly presenting as needy or homeless by either begging, rummaging through garbage, sleeping on a bench or outside, or otherwise exhibiting a derelict state. This required a willingness to observe carefully, because while some cases were obvious, not all needy people "look" like they are at first glance, and not all people who look unkempt are actually homeless or needy. This was especially the case for a middle aged man I observed, dressed normally in jeans and a jacket, standing around on a half-full subway platform as people buzzed around him or waited for the train...only when he thought no one was looking would he turn around and pick through a large garbage can beside where he lingered, hunting for bits of food or something he could use. When I approached him and said "Excuse me," he looked surprised and frightened, as though he'd been caught in the act and would be in trouble. There was an element of shame as well as fear, until I followed by extending my hand with a brown bag lunch in it and saying "Would you like some food? It's a packed lunch." His face softened with relief first, then realization, and finally gratitude. This reaction played out again and again as I made my ways through first the subways and then the streets of New York. I realized then how often the homeless and needy in large cities are accustomed not only to being ignored by passersby, but to being apprehended in some way, told to move along, or perhaps even chastised. Almost everyone I approached seemed surprised and a little bit taken a back...they were clearly not used to being spoken to or acknowledged, certainly not with kindness.

When I had spent about 2 hours wandering the platforms and trains of the subway stations without yet popping above ground, I decided to hit the streets for a while to see what I could find. I was ready for some fresh air by then and wanted to make sure I found some of the people who were on the streets as well, in order to Spread The Love more thoroughly. When I popped above ground at West 4th Street, the snow was really billowing down and the streets were pretty empty; it was almost evening at that point, and I became concerned that I wouldn't know where to go to find people outside in this weather. I was pretty tired at this point as well, so I decided to just walk a loosely planned route through some populous areas nearby and see what happened. I came across a man in Washington Square Park, sitting on a bench with garbage bags all around him. It was so cold and snowy that he was the only person in the park, besides me. Like most of the people I gave lunches to that day, he thanked me graciously, again and again, and said "God Bless" several times as I walked away smiling at him. I found several more people taking cover under the scaffolding along the lower end of 5th Avenue. I found a seemingly mentally disturbed man sitting at a small table in a Starbucks, staring down at his shaking hands and glancing around nervously while muttering to himself, clearly hoping that no one would notice him and shoo him back out into the cold from which he had found temporary respite. All of these people were approached gently, spoken to kindly, and given a bag of food if they so desired. All but one person accepted.

At the end of the day, it took me almost 4 hours to hand out all of the lunches, but I did not give up until every one was handed out. In the future I will take what I've learned and apply it in order to maximize the number of people I can reach in that time. This is not a one time thing: I have held this dream for a long time, and now that I have realized it, I plan to make it a regular part of my life. I learned a lot from this first experience of Spreading The Love: namely, how the acknowledgement of a suffering person, the speaking of a kind word, the willingness to look, accept, and care, are as important as the actual assistance you are providing. The food was greatly appreciated and much needed by these people, I could tell- but so was the validation of being spoken to kindly by another human being who wasn't just breezing by, unseeing and uncaring. It felt good for me too, of course. I felt tired, and somewhat saddened by what I had seen, but mostly brimming with an immense hope for the myriad possibilities of a small scale approach to helping people- one person at a time. We can all do this in our lives, we can all take part in an exchange of positive energy. There are some images from that day that stay with me: the older Eastern European woman in Union Square subway station, begging in a wheelchair with one hand extended, unable to speak English to thank me but gazing at up at me with tears forming in her eyes and a smile spreading across her aged face. The moving sight of a man sitting all alone in a park covered with stark clean white snow, with only garbage bags of nothing gathered around him for security, but a love in his heart that allowed him to smile broadly and heartily "God Bless" me over and over for helping him.

Spread the Love is going to be a regular part of my world from now on. I don't know yet how often I will do it, but I am committing to maintaining this project going forward. I may be only one person, but I know how much one person can make a difference, and small scale is where big change starts. I will be funding this project myself, but in time, I plan to look into asking some neighborhood businesses if they would be willing to make donations of food for this project. If you yourself feel inclined to help this project along by making a small donation, I would of course be very grateful, as would those on the receiving end of the food I am providing- I promise that any amount, no matter how small, will be completely and efficiently used towards the purchase of food that will be delivered directly into the hands of the needy. If you've been looking for an easy, no hassle way to make a small no-minimum contribution to charity, here's your chance! I will post more in the future about the continuing efforts of Spread The Love, and I hope this story has inspired you to seek out small ways to make big changes in your own communities. Even if by just remembering to acknowledge and dignify all of the souls you come across in life.

I would like to share this video, which is extremely beautiful and moving, and which helped inspire me to follow my own dream with Spread The Love. The actions we take to spread love and caring to those around us contain more power to change the world than anything else: video of the works of Mr. Narayanan Krishnan.

Wednesday, January 12

"Table for One" : The Art of Eating, Alone

These days, with our busy ever-shifting schedules and jam-packed work days, many of us eat at least one meal a day alone- often two. Many of these meals are eaten in the office or workplace, and some of them are eaten at home or in a restaurant of sorts. Even if we live with others or with families, we often don't eat all of our meals with them, either because we don't feel inclined to or because we are all feeling pulled in different directions by our schedules and obligations. Stop for a moment and consider how often you eat alone, and then ask yourself- how you are using that time?

The temptation when eating alone is to immediately seek distraction in the form of something "to do". Because we can't just sit there, eating, ALONE...right? We'll often look for something to read or flip through, something to entertain us and either engage our brains or shut them off such as email, Facebook, blogs online, magazines, or even paperwork for our jobs. If we're at home, we'll often plop down in front of the TV to distract ourselves with whatever shows are on, zoning out as we chew and swallow. What about when we're eating alone in a restaurant without a TV or computer or book nearby? Out comes the cell phone or PDA for some texting or internet surfing, or we dig around for distract ourselves with. And usually, we gobble down these alone meals fairly quickly, because it's not like it's worth spending any time on a simple old everyday meal just for us, right?

But what are we hiding and rushing away from? Is it that uncomfortable to simply sit, alone, and eat our food? Is it that preposterous to let our meal itself, and the act of enjoying it and receiving it, be all the stimulation we need? Well, yes, it can be that uncomfortable and seem first. That's because we aren't used to it, and we are no longer conditioned to view the art of eating as something intimate, pleasureable, and worthy of our full attention, especially when we are eating alone. Why shouldn't you get just as much enjoyment, pleasure, and relaxation out of a meal eaten alone as you do when dining with others or when celebrating a special occasion? Eating is about nourishment including but not limited to the food itself, and in order to get the most out of your meals both physically and emotionally, you need to honor your meal times as a special time in your day for relaxation, reflection, and pleasure; even when eating alone.

It's a well known fact that rushing through a meal by hastily chewing and gulping down your food results in discomfort, gas, bloating, and acid indigestion. But many people aren't aware that this rushed approach to eating actually hinders your ability to digest your food, assimilate your nutrients, and maintain an efficient metabolism. When we're eating fast, the digestive system does not have time to adequately and effectively process what we are taking in so we miss crucial steps of the digestion and assimilation cycle, meanwhile the body receives the message that we are in a state of stress or emergency and responds by releasing stress hormones that trigger a "fight or flight" response, causing the body to pause the metabolism of energy to focus on the "emergency" at hand. That's right: eating fast--> lack of digestion and assimilation --> stress response --> the shut-down of calorie and fat burning.

When we eat in a distracted state, there is a similar effect: our bodies and minds are so interwoven that when we are mentally focusing on something other than the art of eating what is in front of us, our bodies lose focus on the act of digesting, assimilating, and metabolizing our food. While we may think we are master multi-taskers, the fact is that you can't be working on a report on your computer while absent mindedly munching on a sandwich and getting the same level of benefit from that sandwich in terms of digestion and satisfaction as you would if you were eating it slowly and paying attention to the fact that this is your time to refuel, and that it in and of itself deserves to be a priority. When we don't give ourselves the space and attention to emotionally and mentally engage fully with the act of eating, we miss out on a crucial part of the eating experience both physically and emotionally and thus wind up unsatisfied, tired, groggy, and feeling deprived of true enjoyment of our food, resulting in everything from overeating to cravings for sweets and stimulants to an overall disillusion with the pleasure of eating.

There are two parts to the nourishment picture: the nutrients and energy in our food that are absorbed into our bodies, and the emotional and mental satisfaction that comes from deriving pleasure and sensation from the act of eating. Make no mistake: both parts are equally important and both play an equal role in balancing health, weight, and fitness. In truth, they are two parts of a whole: nourishment is not only physical or emotional/mental; it's both, and you can't ignore one or the other. If you're having trouble losing weight or maintaining your energy or you just don't feel well after you eat, ask yourself how you eat as well as what you eat. Whether you are eating by yourself or in a group, focus on actually eating your food and let yourself pay attention and enjoy it. Don't succumb to the temptation to rush through or distract yourself. You do deserve to take your time, relax, chew and swallow, and derive real pleasure from your meal.... every meal... whether you're eating alone or in the company of others. Not only do you deserve it, but you need it in order to effectively digest your food and feel truly satisfied with your experience of eating.

So how about some tips for how to make meal time sacred, relaxed and enjoyable, even when dining alone?

At home:

- Sit at at the table, not on the couch. This is a real meal like any other, even though you're alone. You don't need the TV or computer for company, you can be your own company.

- Make use of simple things that signify "dining" or "special" or "relaxation", such as a cloth napkin, a fancy glass for water, a lit candle, or some background music that makes you happy or relaxed. You may be thinking how silly it sounds, but trust me: creating the environment makes a big difference.

- Say a word of thanks before your meal. This does not have to be a prayer or anything religious. Simply having a moment of gratitude before you receive a gift to yourself puts you in the prime place for effectively using and appreciating that gift.

- Practice getting to know the food that is in front of you. Notice the sight, taste, texture, smell of your food as you are eating. This awareness is very significant to your enjoyment of and therefore satisfaction from and digestion of the meal. As my husband heard somewhere, "you take the first bite with your eyes". Or your nose, or your fingers. Engage in your eating and you'll get so much more from it!

-Breathe. This is so important. Taking deep breaths instantly slows us down, calms us within, and sends the message to the body that there is no emergency and therefore no need to tense up and pause metabolism, not to mention that adequate oxygen is essential for digestion and all other bodily processes.

In The Office or Workplace:

- If you can, leave your work area and take your meal to a common area like a lounge or even better to a park or bench outside, weather permitting. The idea is to get some separation (mentally and physically) from your work space if possible, so that you can focus on your meal.

- If you have to eat at your desk or in your office, pull a chair over to the window if you have one, or at the very least turn away from your computer and resolve to not check email, answer phones, or look through papers during your meal.

- Set aside a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes to eat your meal, and ask that anyone coming in to talk to you about work matters comes back when you're finished. You may feel uncomfortable requesting this, but think about what you're asking: a small window of time to engage in and enjoy one of the ONLY essential things we all NEED to do every day. In that context, it's not too much to ask.

As someone who works mostly from home and generally eats two of my three meals a day alone, I find that some of my best ideas, introspective insights, and refreshing periods of calm come during my meals alone. I have come to value those mealtimes as much as I do eating out with others or having a special meal with my husband. Eating is about fun, pleasure, joy, and sensuality, and you deserve to experience that regardless of the situation. Yes, it does take practice, and commitment, and there are times when it would be easier or more convenient to just grab and go, but that's not what your body wants or what your soul needs, and it isn't going to allow you to lose weight, increase your energy, feel better in your body, and just enjoy yourself. Think about it....we all love to eat, so why not give it the sweet spotlight, even when you're by yourself?