Category Archives: Wellness & Spirituality
Silence has a beautiful sound. It’s a matter of allowing yourself the time and space to experience it.
A friend asked me recently, “why haven’t you blogged lately?” My response is that I don’t always have something to say. It takes me a while to take in experiences before I can form a point of view that is not influenced by someone else’s opinion but truly my own, therefore genuine.
Anais Nin once wrote, “my ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” I’ve written my books on the road, in conversation, in the kitchen, in relationships, and any number of ways. I’ve written by simply living as deeply as I possibly can, ploughing through one experience at a time, taking in all the wonderful people I’ve met, foods I’ve enjoyed, places I’ve discovered.
My silence is for the love of sharing what I have seen, smelled, heard, tasted, and touched. But, pulling back the layers takes time and I am in no hurry. My discipline is not based on a deadline but on a lifestyle that is free-form, and I’ve never missed a crucial deadline as a result. We are all unique. We all work differently and recognizing one’s individual process and talent is important. It can make a world of difference to the way we react to things and how we relate to others, in writing or otherwise.
I owe my personal success, which can be measured in any number of ways, to learning how to hear the sweet sound of silence. Give me peace and I will pave a smoother more direct road than you might otherwise experience.
So in response to my friend. I write when I have something to say. Sometimes it’s a recipe. Sometimes it’s a thought. It’s always my truth.
What constitutes a balanced meal? Believe it or not, I’ve been asked on many occasions. This question generally takes me back to my Asian upbringing, where balance is key to living a good life. Yin and yang—opposite forces that complement each other to form a whole—is what Asian cooks aspire to when creating meals, whether at home or in a restaurant setting. For us, it is a guiding principle from the time we are born and given our first solid meal. And because Yin and Yang is not just a principle practiced in the kitchen, but applied to everything in life, it is deeply ingrained in our psyche.
In Asia, breakfast, lunch and dinner hold the same importance and include the same components, a starch, a protein, vegetables, and often times broth for sipping and cleansing the palate between bites. At the end of the meal, fresh fruit and loose leaf tea are enjoyed to aid digestion. It’s a very simple concept. Eat a little of everything, whether vegetarian or not.
A balanced meal is not only about making sure all the food groups are present, but about developing flavors to satisfy our taste buds. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter— tastes sensations in food— is a combination used as a measuring tool for balance and what we look for in our meals, whether aware or not. Umame is yet another one of these sensations uniquely present in monosodium glutamate, which is naturally occurring in many leafy greens. Though the taste is hard to describe, and somewhat different from yet similar to salt, it is present to gently tickle the senses and awaken your taste buds. In Asia all these taste sensations are present throughout the meal, so much so that dessert such as cake or ice cream is considered unnecessary and never part of the meal, our palates already satisfied by the sweet element we’ve been enjoying all along.
The pressing question still remains. How do we get all of these tastes in a single meal? It’s really quite simple. If making a marinade combining salty soy sauce with sweet sugar, bitter garlic, spicy chilies, and sour rice vinegar for any protein you might enjoy, you’re half way there. A bowl of rice provides a canvas upon which all these flavors can land. Complete the meal with stir-fried leafy greens with garlic, lightly drizzle with soy sauce, and a light broth to sip on the side, and you’ve achieved your goal. A broth could be as quickly to make as a 2-minute miso soup, so don’t let that stop you in achieving balance at every meal, which can be served in 20 minutes, the time it takes rice to cook.
How can we apply Yin and Yang in the western kitchen? It’s easy. Just look for the same taste sensations when developing a meal. A salad has a vinaigrette and in it sour vinegar, spicy mustard (perhaps a touch of the ever so popular Sriracha), salty salt, bitter onion or garlic, and a touch of sweet honey. The umame is in the lettuce! That’s one example. Pasta with freshly made tomato sauce can also have these elements, the tomato itself providing the sweet and tart element, and from there the grated salty Parmesan protein, and the spicy red pepper flakes, with the bitter note from sautéed broccoli rabe on the side.
Pick a cuisine and throw in some Yin and Yang. You’ll see how easy it is to accomplish, if you put your mind to it.
Creating balance in a meal is so much more than developing that sensory experience, however. It should be aesthetically pleasing as well. Taking the time to create a visually appealing meal whether you are cooking for one, two or more, should be just as important. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese aesthetics, particularly in the kitchen. There a simple bowl of rice is always decorated with something, from chopped scallions, to pickled daikon, freshly julienned ginger, or perhaps a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Taking care to cook something beautiful requires patience and total focus and engagement. It is a meditative act that is well worth while. For one you eat visually, long before you sit down to actually taste the food. You’ll wind up needing very little food to satisfy both body and mind, allowing air (space) to do its work and aid digestion.
Last but not least, just as you need to breathe, so should you leave some white space on the plate!
Eat to live rather than live to eat. You’ll feel the difference.
I grew up in an Asian family where soup was an integral part of the meal. Sometimes it was as simple as a fragrant broth to cleanse the palate and aid digestion between bites of delicious morsels. Other times, it could slightly thicker and creamy such as this mung bean and coconut milk (or regular milk, if you prefer) soup.
Easy to make, use peeled and split yellow mung beans, which are readily available in Asian markets or online. Originating in India, and spreading throughout Asia, they’ve been enjoyed for thousands of years in numerous recipes, both sweet and savory.
An added benefit is that unlike other types of beans, these cook rather quickly. In less than 1 hour you can have soup on the table. Fragrant with spiced coconut oil (experiment and use whatever spice you like) and topped with caramelized onions, ginger and top with some refreshing tender cilantro leaves.
health benefits: mung beans are a low-glycemic, high-fiber food, which helps to reduce or fight diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.
Note: You’ll notice that the soup is very subtle in flavor, trusting that the flavors of the spiced coconut oil will do the trick. As always I pull back in order to taste every ingredient in the foods I cook. My soups are never the same twice, as a result. My recipes are there for you to use as a basic guide and encourage you to make them your own.
SPICED MUNG BEAN COCONUT SOUP
1 tablespoon grapeseed or olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 cup split yellow mung beans
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 quart filtered water
salt to taste
In a medium pot over medium heat, add the oil and the curry powder. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mung beans, stirring until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer until the mung beans break down and the soup thickens. Season with salt to taste.
SPICED COCONUT OIL (optional; use any spice you like)
(makes 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon black onion seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
7 green cardamom pods
3 pieces black cardamom
5 curry leaves
2 cassia leaves (sometimes referred to as “Indian basil”)
2 whole dried cayenne peppers
3 whole star anise
In a small pot over medium-low heat, add the spices and stir until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Transfer to a heat-proof jar.
(makes about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 large yellow or red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 ounces ginger (equivalent of about a 2-inch piece), peeled and julienned
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
In a skillet over high heat, add the grapeseed oil and stir-fry the onion until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger and continue to stir-fry until fragrant and lightly golden, about 2 minutes more. Set aside with fresh cilantro leaves
ASSEMBLE THE MUNG BEAN SOUP
Taste your soup and make sure it is seasoned to your liking. Serve hot in individual bowls, adding a tablespoon of fragrant coconut oil (with some onion seeds, if you like). Top with some of the stir-fried onion and ginger mixture and garnish with fresh cilantro. Enjoy, remembering to breathe and savor every spoonful.
A couple of years ago I gave up eating rice, noodles, bread, and such carbs on a regular basis. I eat these occasionally to satisfy my taste for them. I love slurping noodles, I love the chewiness of rice, and I also love multi-grain fruit and nut breads, and yes I love a good fruit tart or pie. I don’t have to have them every day, and that’s key to keeping a LOW-CARB diet, or better yet, lifestyle. Maintain a low-carb diet and you will lose weight and keep it off. Why? Because carbs act like sponges. They absorb everything then sit in the body for a longtime because digesting carbs is a slow process. Some FAT IS GOOD for you. Everything in moderation. Some of us can digest fat better than others. We’re all made differently, and we need to take that into account. You can follow any diet suggesting high-fat and low-carbs, but in general you have to listen to your body, noticing what it’s telling you. Following a diet is not good enough. You won’t learn. You actually need to do the work and notice how different you feel when you make a change to the way you eat. You have to understand the difference and then keep tweaking until the diet is exactly what you need. For instance, I know that I cannot digest fat very well. I’m choosy about the types of fat I put in my body, and most of them are plant-based from tofu, to nuts, avocados, seeds, and olive oil, for example. On rare occasions, I’ll have fish. If you like meat, have some, just be mindful of the amount you have at any one sitting. If you are going to have carbs, enjoy them in the early part of the day and in small quantities.
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Eat well and be well
It doesn’t take much for me to try something new, but it takes a lot for me to jump into cold water. The day I decided to go for it, my body was experiencing intense soreness radiating in every direction not to mention a pinched nerve in the neck, tendonitis in both shoulders, and an old injury in the right hip. Unaccustomed to taking medication, over the counter or prescribed, and always choosing the natural path, I started researching ancient practices that would help relieve an aching body that felt older than its years.
I had heard of communal baths that were used during ancient Roman and Greek times. In those days, communal bathing was embraced as a social activity by people of varying economic means. The Greeks also believed that such baths were blessed by Gods and had healing powers. Balneums, or bathhouses, were often formed around hot springs on hillsides, a concept the Romans took to the next level, building elaborate bathhouses, heating various pools, increasing the temperature with each. Additionally, rooms were built around these pools, with one hotter than the next. There were three types ranging in temperature from cold to hot including the frigidarium (cold), tepidarium (warm or body temperature), and caldarium (hot). The idea was to go from one pool to the next, experiencing shifts in temperature, from hot to open the pores, allowing the body to release toxins while relieving any soreness in the body, to cold to close the pores while tightening of the skin and reducing inflammation.
While in New York, I decided to try one of a handful of traditional bathhouses to see if it would make a difference to the aches and pains I felt. Aire Ancient Baths of New York in TriBeCa, is a one-of-a-kind spa, from decor to treatment. More than 16,000 sq.ft. of wall-to-wall exposed brick, multiple pools, steam room and massage rooms, with just enough lanterns and candles to light the stone paths. The minute I stepped in, I forgot I was living in New York. I was immediately transported to a different time and place. The decor, though modern, is based on the ancient Roman and Greek outdoor and indoor bathhouses. The calm of the space makes it easy to settle in. The well lit pools are both enticing and intimidating. “I’m here, now what?” was my first thought as I stood in my bikini looking at the various pools. The ritual of bathing in varying degrees of water was intriguing, even if the idea of bathing with strangers was a bit uncomfortable at first. I quickly realized, though, that it was no different than jumping into a swimming pool full of people, so I got over my discomfort quickly.
My next fear was jumping into a 57°F pool, and worst yet, a 50°F pool. I had no problem getting my body acclimated in the 97°F pool, or even relaxing for some time in the 102°F pool. Hot water has never bothered me, but the idea of jumping into cold water was too much for me to even consider. During a two-hour ritual of hopping from one pool to the next, and adding a steam bath in the mix, became easier and easier. True, I was anxious about the cold baths and didn’t go near those, preferring the whirlpool or better yet the salt bath, imagining what it might be like to bathe in the Dead Sea. But my curiosity grew stronger, especially after an amazing massage by David, who suggested the steam bath immediately following the treatment and before the 50°F pool. Two men also encouraged me to jump into the cold pool. “It feels really good,” they kept saying.
I started training, going from the 105°F steam room for 5 minutes or so, to the 102°F pool for another 5, going back and forth a couple of times, passing by the cold baths, going back to the salt bath to meditate, but soon returning to the 102°F pool, remaining there a while to stretch my limbs. And finally, after contemplating what it might feel like, I decided to just do it and jumped right into the 57°F pool. I probably lasted about 30 seconds, my whole body submerged except for my head. It was definitely cold. I immediately got back into the hot pool, and went back and forth between the two a few times. I then decided to go back to the steam room for a few minutes and cool off in the 50°F pool for 30 seconds. My circuit quickly became 102°F, 57°F, 105°F, 50°F, 102°F, 57°F 105°F, 50°F, 102°F, 57°F 105°F, 50°F, nonstop several times, staying in the hot water for 5 to 7 minutes and the cold baths for an average of 45 seconds, each time becoming easier. The cold pool ceased to be cold. The hot pool ceased to be hot, my body acclimating to the self-imposed vigorous circuit training that took place in a span of 2 hours. It was both invigorating and satisfying. I had faced my fear of cold water and in the process had felt a huge relief in my aching body. I felt it heal by the minute. It was just water!
Aire Ancient Baths is a wonderful place to spend your afternoons. I would recommend doing this on an empty stomach. It requires mental strength for sure. The best is to design a circuit and stick to it and not think so much about the temperatures once you’ve gotten used to jumping from one pool to the next. There is a purpose to the changing temperatures. It is indeed quite healing, not just for the body but the mind as well, so don’t skip the cold pool. Step out of your comfort zone and experience this ancient tradition fully. You might regret it otherwise. The big plus is that once you surrender to the experience, a deep calm is felt. I can’t wait to go back!