Friday, July 31, 2015

Poppin' Bottles

As stated in Happy Hour, my hour in the shower is, in my opinion, the most relaxing point of the day. However, as a participant in bikram yoga, an involved shower routine is not always feasible. Doing an hour and a half of yoga in a 104 degree room, for me, makes showering a must directly after class which brings up a specific dilemma: while my "beauty routine" has become more reliant on natural ingredients and devices to carry them, my limited shower time and room in my gym bag make it nearly impossible to transport and use such ingredients in another location.

In Oil My Goodness, I spoke about my penchant for glass bottles over plastic. I tend to use old Kikkoman soy sauce bottles to hold vinegar and old spice bottles to hold baking soda (they allow for an easy pour and keep contents protected from water). However, while these glass bottles look nice on my shower rack, I get nervous at the thought of placing them in my gym bag and feel bad about lining them up and using them in a small, quick shower. While some might suggest a quick rinse post yoga and a longer shower at home, the truth of the matter is: I hate getting my hair wet and only like to do it once in a day. Recently, however, Into the Gloss featured and interview with Cindy Crawford where she detailed "shortcuts" in her beauty routine, some of them pre-gym. In the interview, Crawford claimed to put a mask in her hair, claiming that, "since I know I'll be washing my hair right after I exercise, I put a pre-wash conditioner in my hair... A greasy ponytail during a workout never hurt anyone." While hair-treatment in a 104 degree room might be a hazard to your eyes since sweat seems to go everywhere during yoga, there are a few things I do before and after yoga to help streamline my routine... just like Cindy Crawford.

Dry Brush: Running a dry brush over my body in motions up towards my heart is a great way to exfoliate before yoga when I might not be able to in the shower, afterwards. It also stimulates blood flow which, in my opinion, gives you a jump-start on something your workout is going to do anyway. I got mine at Whole Foods but Aromatherapy Associates sells a good one as well.

Masking at home saves you from looking like an Oompah-Loompah at the gym.

Honey and Turmeric Mask: In the yoga "locker room" there are two small showers and one large sign asking patrons to keep their showers to three minutes...maximum. As such, I basically use my prescription strength dandruff shampoo to wash my hair and body post-haste. Therefore, while I don't always believe the hype that we need to treat our face oh, so differently from our bodies, I sometimes want to give my face and extra cleanse post yoga. Recently, I came across a recipe for a honey-turmeric mask used to reduce inflammation in the skin. Several nights a week, I like to slap a mask on my face to draw out any more impurities not targeted in my quick yoga-shower.

Note: As referenced in Humor Me, inflammation tends to rank high on my list of skin-related issues. This being said, try to use a mask which complements your skin and its needs best. Recipes for hydrating masks and/or calming masks abound. Additionally, I've read that standing on your head a little each day can increase blood flow to the area, thus aiding your complexion. If you ever want to try bikram yoga, this action can be done on the daily...

Hair Mask: Although I can't often use baking soda as an exfoliant post-yoga, I don't regret that my skin is not super dry following my shower. While I love baking soda as an exfoliant, I've noticed it does dry one's skin and the last thing I want to do after yoga is stand around the locker room moisturizing, moisturizing and moisturizing. Oftentimes, I just want to get a drink... iced coffee, usually. Likewise, while my anti-dandruff shampoo works well as an all-purpose cleanser, I find it does dry my hair. Therefore, making a homemade hair mask (at home) allows me the time I need to get some much needed moisture in. The conundrum of the hair mask, however, is that it requires a shampoo the next morning. Usually, I put a mask on when I know I'm not doing yoga the next day, meaning I use the "masking method" roughly two days a week. On all other nights, I try to brush my hair (I recently read that the bend in curly hair does not allow for a good distribution of oil which leads to frizz) and add a spot of oil to give it some extra sheen. This has not only lead to glossier locks but an excuse to try new beauty products. Enjoy!

If all else fails, bottles from Whole Foods are great "transport vehilces" for your beauty products.


Oil My Goodness

I may regret writing this blog post... not that it says anything too controversial or what we haven't already been hearing in the news. But, as I'm upping the use of essential oils in my beauty routine (dabbing a little on my wrists and behind my ears each morning), I'm trying to reduce my use of plastic on the daily. The two materials, while different, can perhaps be classified as "oil" since plastic is often (in the U.S.) made from natural gas or crude oil. (A helpful article can be found here.) This has been my thing as I try to reduce my use of non-renewable resources and err more towards something I love: glass bottles.

I think it all started when I read Jhumpa Lahiri's book, "Interpreter of Maladies." Featuring a collection of short stories, Lahiri frames a scene in which a rich man goes to buy his wife a melange of beauty products in Boston. Within the scene (if my memory serves), the man gently holds a unique glass bottle in his hand and I pictured it looking like something a king would have possessed in the Mughal Empire. From thereon, I was kind of hooked and looked for glass bottles wherever I went. But, like Lahiri implies in Interpreter of Maladies, glass bottles often house expensive products (save for maybe Revlon Nail Enamel) and as my budgetary priorities shift with age, I find myself unable to snatch up all the essential oils in their pretty bottles without some serious guilt. An article featured on Into the Gloss entitled The Personal Aromatherapy Trick That'll Finally Put All Those Essential Oils To Good Use offers a counterpoint to my issue, featuring an "inhaler" which allows one to smell their essential oils, gaining an awakening (maybe calming) rush depending on the mixture. The inhalers, however, are plastic and brought me back to my original beef with the material.

This "beef" with plastic seemed to become particularly relevant as I packed up my belongings in anticipation of my summer move to Connecticut. Since I do have a few essential oils and carrier oils, not to mention shampoos, hydrogen peroxide, etc. my inclination was to place them all in plastic bags and ship them up. However, as I looked around my room, I realized there was a reason I kept all my shoe boxes and tissue paper piled up in a single corner. Just a slight wrap in soft paper and careful placement in a box allowed me to bring up my goodies with little use of Ziploc (read: plastic). And while I realize this may not be an ideal way to travel with a large family, it made me happy. And though I may be reducing my use of some oils in plastic, I've come across a brand of essential oils that have peaked my interest... mainly because they come in glass bottles. For anyone who wants to try, KIS Oils (and Aromatherapy Associates) has a great line of essential oils to suit one's every (oily) need.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Honey, Redux

I remember watching a scene from one of my favorite movies, Munich, in which the main character says to another something akin to, "beware, the local honeypot." At the time, I thought "the local honeypot" was a more colloquial term referring to a provincial girl whose beauty attracts and "catches" men, like honey. Years later, I came to find that the term was more appropriate to the movie in that, according to Wikipedia, it more narrowly refers to, "[e]spionage recruitment involving sexual seduction." So yes, the "sweet" part still remains but the term seems to refer to catching state secrets as opposed to prospective husbands. In the culinary sense, the term "honeypot" actually refers to a pot one fills with honey but the parallel remains that honey is a sweet item in which nutrients and flavors can be caught and thus, delivered to the gourmand.

Out with the old...

One book which changed my life, French Women Don't Get Fat, once referred to pasta as a "matrix" in which other, healthy ingredients could be embedded. Indeed, more recent foodies have utilized honey in a similar manner, mixing in turmeric and pepper to make an anti-inflammatory tea or spinning it with balsamic vinegar to create a detoxifying concoction. Several months ago, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks put out a recipe for turmeric tea which got me thinking... honey can serve as a base with which to deliver other flavors and nutrients into one's tea. While I often identify an ingredient and then espouse its benefits, below, I've tried to identify honey/spice combinations which can be used to remedy particular ailments. Since honey is an antimicrobial which carries "sweet" benefits in its own right, it is the perfect additive to make "the medicine go down" in the contemporary era.

Note: Throughout the following combinations, raw, local honey should be used where possible. While the intake of local honey can be used to help combat allergies, raw honey often, "retains more nutrients," compared to its processed counterparts, according to with the new.

Metabolism Booster: Honey and chili powder
According to WebMD, capsaicins (found in peppers) essentially have been shown to raise body temperature which causes one to burn more energy and thus, lose more weight. While chilies won't help you shed pounds directly, they've been shown to suppress one's appetite as well, making it a key "ingredient" in weight loss. If anything, combining 2 tbs. of honey with a dash of chili powder in 1 cup of hot water will certainly warm you on a winter's day.

Oral Hygiene: Honey and ground cloves
As stated before, honey acts as an anti-microbial, fighting off certain bacteria. Cloves, however, can also do wonders for your oral hygiene. From acting as a remedy for bad breath to curing a toothache, cloves can be applied to a melange of things oral related. Just crush 1 and 1/2 tsp. with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder, mix with 2 tbsp. honey and add hot water.

Cardiovascular Cure: Honey and cinnamon
Let me be clear, "cardiovascular cure" is a bit of a misnomer. While some studies have shown cinnamon to have positive effects on reducing one's blood sugar and/or cholesterol levels, results have been inconclusive, according to WebMD. Nonetheless, cinnamon and honey is a sweet combination which, if anything, will tickle your taste buds. Instead of pre-ground cinnamon, however, I like to use cinnamon sticks which can be broken apart and ground in the spice grinder or grated with a cheese grater. Like the recipe for clove and honey tea, just mix 1 and 1/2 to 2 tsp. ground cinnamon with 2 tbsp. honey and mix in 1 cup hot water and enjoy!

Local, linden

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Foraging Life

At the end of my last post, I spoke about how I tend to be better at foraging than farming. Walking through a nursery today, I couldn't help but feel I was cheating if I didn't grow plants from seed. At the nursery, one can buy plants pre-grown, in a hardy state which, in my case, would make them more difficult to (unintentionally) kill off. Once you get them home and re-pot them, as the old saying goes, you just add water. While you may need to re-re-pot as time goes on, the process is quite easy.

In gardening, growing plants from seed takes a bit more concentration. Spacing the seeds in appropriate soil, watering them and keeping them at a constant temperature has proven difficult for me over the past few years. I suppose the responsibility of "bringing up plants" gives me anxiety and in turn, seedlings seem to wither and die under my over-watchful eye (which is probably why I'm waiting to have kids). Foraging, however, seems to yield little concern on my part ("The plants are already there. Why not take them?" I think.) And as I begin to find that plants can have positive effects on high levels of anxiety, I've tried to mix both foraging and caring for potted plants into my daily routine.

All my plants will tell you, I'm a lukewarm babysitter.

Recently, Into the Gloss released an article entitled Fill Your Bathroom With Plants. Noting that, "plants have been shown to boost moods, increase creativity, filter indoor air toxins, and produce oxygen," the article suggested several plants that would grow well areas with high moisture and low light (read: bathrooms in New York City). I agreed with the notion of using plants to enhance the "spa like" ambiance of a bathroom (see Happy Hour) but not wanting to purchase pre-grown plants, I thought about simply foraging for small bouquets in the great outdoors... or in my backyard.

Through some simple study and classes at Flower Power in the East Village, I've been able to identify some wild, edible plants which seem indigenous to my immediate surroundings. Mulberries, clovers and yarrow are just a few of the plants which can be found in a New England yard or city sidewalk for that matter and can be washed and eaten or made into teas, tinctures or vinegars. Noting my above predicament, such plants can also be gathered and made into a small bouquet for the bathroom or any other small space in your home.

"Foraged" and potted plants, side by side.
So, below is a list of some "foragable", edible plants which can be found locally in the New England area and can second as a visually intriguing bouquet in any room of the house. Enjoy!
Red Clover: Red clovers are the pink, "puffy" flowers often found in a meadow or field. When I was young, I remember looking up to an older girl who was able to make flower chains with them. In terms of "edible-ness" and nutrition, red clovers essentially have flower tops which can be pulled from the plant and consumed. I often like to pull out the flowers and let them steep in white wine to add less guilt to my lunchtime beverage (in the summer). Historically, red clovers have been used to help remedy indigestion, or symptoms of PMS or menopause. It has also been used to reduce one's cough, asthma and bronchitis, according to WebMD. As somewhat of a defacto vegetarian, I also learned that the flowers of red clovers were a good source of protein even though I haven't been able to confirm this through other sources. 
Yarrow: Mythology (and Wikipedia) tells us that the Greek warrior Achilles had his soldiers use yarrow as a means to staunch blood wounds, thereby giving it the Latin name: Achillea millefolium. The "millefolium" in the above name translates to "thousand leaves" and, indeed, the leaves of the yarrow plant are many and tiny. This is one way in which I'm able to differentiate it from lookalikes such as water hemlock (which is toxic) and Queen Anne's Lace. Visually, in addition to having "a thousand leaves", yarrow plants also have light-yellow flowers which seem to grow out in concentric circles with many flowers forming one bunch and with said bunches forming the entire head of the plant. Like red clovers, yarrow is primarily used to make medicine. Native Americans used to chew the root in order to induce sweating as yarrow can be helpful in breaking a fever. Yarrow can also be placed in the bath or in tea to aid with cramps or intestinal issues respectively. 
Any long stemmed plant: If your goal is to simply have plants in your house, they obviously don't all have to be edible. Simply cutting the stem with its attached leaves off a plant in your yard can add a sophisticated addition to any area of your house. Plus, it's easy and free! 
So, if you're worried about your green thumb (or lack thereof) foraging plants from your surroundings is a low maintenance way to enjoy their benefits without the consistent upkeep. Plus, when new plants are needed, simply compost the old ones and continue the cycle of life. Hippie life.
If you do have a black thumb and don't want to forage, succulents are an equally low-maintenance option to go with.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Economy of Sale

As I move more deeply into the health food movement, I've been tempted sprawl my interests into the arena of gardening. I've wanted to do this for several reasons. One, as my tastes have focused on beans and dark, leafy greens, I've thought to myself, "I can grow that." And two, I thought growing my own food would save some cash. There are a lot of "green things" at play here: foods, monies, etc. The only thing that's not green, is my thumb.

How does your garden grow?

This spring, I sent away for dozens of seeds from Happy Cat Farms in Pennsylvania. My order consisted of Kentucky beans, Roma tomatoes and hot peppers which I was excited to start from seed. I was even wondering what I'd do with my bumper crops. "Maybe the neighbors would like some," I thought. However, entrusting the seeds to my busy fiancé was my first mistake. Long hours and an understandably lukewarm attitude towards my adventures in home-growing yielded little care for my plants which in turn yielded little growth. Enacting plan B, I subsequently decided to buy some pregrown plants from the farm next door. This was my fiancé's argument all along: "We live next to a farm. Let's just buy plants/food from them." But I was stubborn until I realized that, really, gardening is not my thing.

Whether it's a revolt against big business or simply a can-do attitude, the homemade movement is gaining trend in the United States. Just looking at the Williams Sonoma website, one can buy anything from a chicken coop to DIY cheese making kits. I remember thinking my uncle was quite odd when he started brewing his own beer in the early 90's. Now, such an activity is the pastime of the masses. Indeed, I've heard of folks in Connecticut who possess goals of growing and subsisting on food from their property alone. It's likely no coincidence that they tend to have chicken coops the size of an average starter home and (I assume) a staff to match. Such people, however, tend to fall into the category of "job creators." While I despise the political connotations of such a term, it's true that many such people work in New York and oversee large amounts of employees, assets, etc. While this notion may seem politically charged, for me, there is not much judgement here. Beyond economic notions of producers, consumers, etc. I recognize that there are, to some extent, alphas and betas. I, through some self analysis, know I'm a beta and like to work for praise rather than oversee the work of others. While our economy seems to reward some forms of work over others (which is an argument for another time) for now, I live in the reality of knowing that with the combination of my (un)green thumb, staff of one and small amount of land (and income) it's likely better that I buy my food instead of produce it. For me, this is a good thing. While I'm no seasoned scholar of the economy, I sometimes worry about my lack of contribution to it. Such lack of contribution is not only due to limited resources but towards a general malaise for material things. Granted, what I do buy, I often can't afford but nonetheless, I worry about my lack of cash flow in the local and larger economy. I don't buy a lot of food, I don't buy a lot of clothes, I don't even own a home. This is where my production and consumption of food strikes a balancing point. While I do like growing food my own, I recognize that for me, spending my money on local food grown by producers who are better at the task and stake their livelihood on it is a way I can contribute to the economy in a way I see fit. While I was dismayed in high school when my teacher told us that to be a responsible citizen we only had to vote and watch the news, I'm quickly learning that where we spend our money contributes to a collective voice which states what we value and what we want to see change. For me, I can feel good about throwing my support and money behind local farmers who use sustainable methods to grow something we need. It's my contribution both monetarily and idealistically. However, I still like to try my hand at gardening here and there. Below, is what I like to grow and what I like to buy. Enjoy!

Chive on.
Foods I grow...

Chives: I realllly like alliums. Garlic, onions, shallots are something I generally look to use in every dish I make. Chives, therefore, function well as an easily grown herb which doesn't take up too much space. As I stated before, I haven't found much luck in growing items from seed, so purchasing garlic or onions in February to grow in March and transplant in May would probably go poorly for me. Furthermore, with my lack of a green thumb, I'd likely not receive a high yield of the above plants. Therefore, I tend to but my garlic and onions from the farmers' market but keep chives on hand to add a little "onion-y" flavor to a dish.

Basil: My friend gave me a basil plant before moving back to Indianapolis and, while it's an herb I haven't used much of before, I find I'm using it a lot in the summer. The obvious choice would be pesto, which I make but I also like to make a basil oil which adds a bit of nuance to a dish. Furthermore, basil is relatively sustainable and doesn't need as much of a watchful eye as larger plants might.

Beans: For me, growing plants whose roots grow into the soil is a pointless venture. While I get excited about growing my own plants, I don't know or, dare I say care, enough about the soil to produce strong, healthy plants. I'm too lazy to really till the soil and too cheap to buy a raised bed, so if it can't fit in a small pot, it'd better grow up rather than down. Beans are great in this scenario. While they start from seed, they can be simply placed in the ground in June (in New England) rather than grown and watched over in a pot from March to May. After simply weeding and tilling the first layer of soil outdoors, I was surprised at how quickly my bean seeds sprouted and began to grow upwards. To me, they are a daily reminder that we can all grow something.

Beans, beans, they're good for your're heart (and agricultural confidence).
Foods I buy...

Tomatoes: Since, as stated before, I'm not skilled at growing things from seed and my pregrown tomato plant is not yielding much fruit, I find myself buying them from the farmers' market. If you do have somewhat of a green thumb, however, this is a crop I'd recommend trying out since such gems are not available at the farmers' market until mid-July.

Onions and Garlic: Although I currently have garlic seeds in my kitchen, I missed the growing period and now buy them at the grocery store along with onions and scallions. These are also readily available at the farmers' market and something I tend to leave to the experts since the "fruit" of the plant is rather large and therefore (in my mind) left to competent individuals.

Meat: Obviously, I don't have the land, resources or wherewithal to raise livestock.  

Note: While I'm not the best farmer, I feel I'm not a bad forager. While I don't have the "O" blood type like our prehistoric forefathers who hunted and gathered their sustenance, I've found that after a few short classes, I'm able to identify a few basic plants which are edible. I would not recommend doing this unless you truly know what you're looking for but for anyone looking to learn more on the subject, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is a good place to start. The New York Times came out with a cute article as well entitled: Salad From the Sidewalk. The (somewhat anecdotal) article is complete with charming illustrations that, if anything, are pleasant to look at.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Masseuse on the Lose

In Happy Hour, I spoke about how time in the shower can transport one to a far off land of cleanliness and relaxation. Setting aside time to let your mind decompress during a forty-five minute ritual can have great effects on the psyche. According to the Huffington Post, relaxation is a process which can reduce our chances of getting a cold (this is somewhat tied to inflammation, a condition referenced in Humor Me) or cancer and can increase the strength of our memory. Ariana Huffington herself referenced the fact that today, showers are one of the only places we can't bring a phone, which makes it the perfect place to decompress.

"Touch is love." ~John Lennon

While taking about the procedure I follow before, during and after I shower, I forgot to include the one element which is ubiquitous throughout all these processes: massage. The act of massaging has been shown to have a myriad of benefits for quite some time. According to the Mayo Clinic, the act of massage can be helpful in the relief of, "anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia and sports injuries," among other things.  So numerous are the benefits of massage that my dad once joked they could likely improve one's SAT scores. But I don't think massage is simply an aid in the biological sense. Studies conducted on monkeys in the 20th century found that when given an option between a (surrogate) mother made of wire which offered food and one made of soft cloth which offered no food, infant monkeys preferred spending time and contact with the "warm mother" made of cloth and only went to the "wire mother" for sustenance. At the end of the experiment, researcher Harry Harlow, "concluded that there was much more to the mother/infant relationship than milk and that this 'contact comfort' was essential to the psychological development and health of infant monkeys and children," according to Wikipedia. Unknowingly providing a paraphrase of the experiment, John Lennon once stated that, "touch is love."

It's no wonder then that I read (a few years back) a good activity for new mothers was to massage their baby. The article explained that, in such a circumstance, massage was an intuitive action that needed no training. For mothers, "[a]ffectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between [you]... and your babies," according to Parents Magazine. I believe that the same goes for ourselves and our loved ones. Prefiguring one is in good health, a massage can serve as an act of love towards oneself and others. With loved one's, adding essential oils such as lavender and/or peppermint to enhance one's relaxation or energy respectively. For oneself, the shower is a great time to simulate your circulation through massage in the following ways:

Dry Brush: While a dry brush isn't exactly akin to a massage, it does simulate your circulation as you move it's bristles across your body and towards your heart. It can also exfoliate your skin making it easier to massage oneself in the shower.

Shampoo: While shampooing your hair, simply rubbing your fingers in circular motions around your scalp is a great way to stimulate circulation due to the large presence of blood vessels in the area. Since I have dandruff, massaging shampoo into my scalp is a pretty imperative ritual but according to wikihow, massaging the scalp offers the added benefit of, "stimulat[ing] mental function." Again, when essential oils are added to this process via one's shampoo, the experience becomes all the more better and effective.

Body Wash: Recently, I came across a sampling of body washes from Aromatherapy Associates. Labels such as support, de-stress and relax came into view as did the product's hefty price tag. However, as I learn more about the fusion of beauty and health, I find that it's the process, not the product, which carries the farthest reaching results. To this extent, even if one uses Ivory Soap, one can still provide his or herself with a shower massage that is sure to enhance circulation and, according to the Livestrong website, when blood circulation is increased, it, "promotes cell growth and organ function," it also allows your skin to more effectively combat bacteria and your muscles to relax. To give yourself a massage in or out of the shower, you can read up on the process here.

So, with that in mind, you have even more to look forward to regarding your shower. And to enhance the experience, here's some "Buddhist meditation music for positive energy". My friend listens to such chants when she has a cold citing that the vibrations help de-congest her sinuses. I can't help but believe her and if anything, it's certainly relaxing. Enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Digital De-de-de-detox

I don't have an addictive personality. I have my share of other issues but I've always been thankful this is not one of them. However, when it comes to my cell phone, I often feel myself slipping into the realm of addiction.

It's not just me who feels they may be addicted to their cell phone. Indeed, 90 percent of Americans are said to overuse or misuse their phones (according to an article on CNN) and up to 80 percent claim they experience a "hit" of dopamine when hearing a notification emanating from their phone. To see if you fall within the above percentages, you can take the Smartphone Abuse Test (I'm sure they have a mobile version, too). Cell phones, for me, remind me of my old relationship with the refrigerator: at times, I know there's nothing in there but I can't help but check. I also find myself getting antsy at yoga when I'm away from my phone for an hour and a half. And so, I figured a "digital detox" or few hours away from my phone would not only yield mental benefits but physical ones as well. To some extent, cell phones have been shown to emit, "low levels of radiofrequency energy," according to the FDA. And while many extensive studies show no certain link between radiation emitted from cell phones and cancers or maladies, it's generally accepted that the further away your cell phone from your head, the better. So, in taking such advice to the extreme, I figured a day of keeping my cell phone not only away from my head, but in my desk drawer was in order. But what to do with all that time not feeling bad about myself on Facebook? That's where the de-de-de comes in.

"De" is not only the prefix for detox, it serves as the first two letters of both deeds and Detroit. It is said that when we switched over to an agricultural society from one based around hunting and gathering, we reaped a few benefits from our new stabilized and "civilized" lifestyles. Once we could shift our time from worrying about where our next meal came from, we were able to develop writing and governmental systems (also social stratification) as well as art and organized religion. It is also said that once our new lifestyles were established, humans for the first time, felt a sense of existential angst about their role in society. This is not to say humans didn't previously experience primal fears that came with hunting game or wondering what happened after death, but what I learned (albeit in Anthropology 101) that when societies shifted from the structure of a tribe to a civilization, it became more difficult to define one's role in society (vis-a-vis hunter or gatherer). The structure of communities also shifted and one's social role may have become more abstract as well. What I took away from my professor's diatribe was that humans, post-agricultural revolution, were more susceptible to loneliness. This is a bold claim and essentially my own interpretation of such information but as we look at our newest revolution, the technological one, loneliness seems to be a recurring theme with the advent of social media.

In a 2013, the New Yorker published an article entitled: How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy. In the article, author Maria Konnikova cited a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University which cited that when people were generally passive on Facebook (reading/looking instead of posting/messaging), their levels of loneliness seemed to increase. As a millennial, I can definitely relate to those moments online when your "status" just doesn't seem to add up. Ergo, again, I figured, why not let go of the phone for a day and do some real social connecting, or essentially, good deeds.

Just as there have been studies done on the use of Facebook, there have been studies done on the effects of good deeds. According to WebMD, "[w]hen we engaged in good deeds, we reduce our own stress." And as we all know, prolonged stress can certainly have adverse effects on both our mental and physical health. Premature aging and a weakened immune system are just some of the adverse effects brought on by long term stress. And so, as I put down my sometimes stress-inducting phone, I decided to double-down with some good deeds. So, on my way to the grocery store, I decided to drop some change in low running parking meters, offer a hello where needed and exercise patience where I could. Not ground breaking stuff but something. If you do want to learn more about more intensive good deeds, I suggest reading up on Sit On It Detroit, a non-profit which builds benches for Detroit citizens at bus stops without them. As the Chinese proverb goes, "it's better to light a small candle than curse the darkness." Enjoy!

Since there are no pictures on this post, I'll add one of my favorite quotes:

Do not suffer from loneliness.
Go outside.
Go away.
It's all the people making you lonely.
Pick a spot on the horizon and head straight for it.
Weave your way through a strand of redwoods.
Kayak an island chain.
Peer over your toes at the edge of a canyon.
Go to your favorite place.
Again, and again.
This is what you need to do.
Not just because it fuels your independence
but because it reminds you you're a part of something bigger.
And although it may not occur to the baffled onlookers
who can't take their eyes off 
your smiling mud-covered wired-up insane self,
you aren't the one who's lonely.

~ Nike

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Red, White and Yellow?

We're moving away from Independence Day, fun as it was. But that doesn't mean we have to move away from summer drinks. Unlike the whiskeys and bourbons of the winter, summer drinks call for cocktails which are light, sparkly and fun. It's time to experiment with the bounty of the season. While one might shy from the root vegetables of winter, berries and herbs available in summer offer a bounty of combinations for a new and cool spritzers. And while I'm not huge fan of berries eaten from a bowl, I love them in syrups which are versatile enough to lend themselves to a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Syrups, which can be simple as dissolving sugar in water or contain and infusion of other ingredients can be made easily on your stove top in several minutes. Recently, I came across a mulberry tree in my finance's yard and decided to make a syrup which I then used to make a cocktail. Hey, it's summer. Enjoy...!

Collecting a few rose petals for a cocktail.

While I recently came across a mulberry tree, I also recently came across the fact its berries are edible. A tree growing outside my school was pointed out one day by a fellow teacher who said, matter-of-factly, "its berries are edible." (This fact was further supported by a class taken at Flower Power in New York.) The berries of a mulberry tree look very similar to a small blackberry and, while indigenous to many places, are often found in the the eastern U.S. Like blackberries, mulberries carry a significant amount of vitamin C but also contain the polyphenol (a group a plant compounds claimed to have antioxidant properties), resveratrol.

I first came across resveratrol in a TED Talk on antiangiogenesis (defined as essentially starving cancer cells from blood vessels which can bring blood and essentially growth to such cells). Within the talk, Dr. William Li, spoke about using food as a preventative tool to keep cancer cells away from blood vessels which would serve (no pun intended) as its food. Through his research, Li found a variety of foods which serves as, "inhibitors of angiogenesis" keeping cancer cells latent from further growth (truly, if you are going to watch a video this week, month or year, I'd say to watch Li's talk here). If you do watch the video, there is an image at 12:26 which hit me like a ton of bricks. The image shows two pictures, one with many blood vessels growing out of a single ring, another with only a few blood vessels growing. What Li says as these images arrive on the screen is that the second image shows a 60% reduction in angiogenesis (growth of blood vessels) after the addition of resveratrol. According to WebMD, resveratrol often does act as an agent which, "protect[s] the body against the kind of damage linked to increased risk for such conditions as cancer and heart disease." The substance has even been shown to treat obesity since, as blood vessels grow, so does fat.

What's left of mulberries after being pushed through a strainer. 

So, with all that scientific talk, I'm sure you're ready for a drink. Note that while mulberries are nutritious, in the following recipe, they are combined with sugar and mixed with alcohol (or not). The recipe below infuses mulberries and ginger into a syrup and then added to club soda along with St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur. I have been meaning to try St. Germain and, once consumed, I knew its, sweet, light taste would combine well the berries of summer. So, without further ado, below lies the recipe for Mulberry-Ginger Sparklers.

Mulberry-Ginger Sparklers
serves 1

  • 1 ounce Mulberry-Ginger Syrup (recipe below)
  • 1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 4 ounces club soda (chilled)
1. Mix ingredients in a glass with ice.

2. Stir and enjoy.

Mulberry-Ginger Syrup
makes 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup mulberries
  • 2 pieces of ginger (1 inch long)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbs. fresh rose petals (optional)
1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. You can crush berries with the back of a spoon or leave them whole for a milder flavor.

2. Allow mixture to heat for about 5 minutes. 

3. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Push through solids if desired. 


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day. The 4th is the day we celebrate our independence from Britain and their perpetual decline.