Tuesday, September 29, 2015


When I was recently on a yoga retreat in Mexico, I spent time around people who ate very well. Not necessarily in the conventional sense of rich dishes that would give one gout. Rather, most of them were vegetarian or tried to eat clean foods; good for both their bodies and the environment. It was here that I learned about the idea of pistachio milk. While explaining that I often made almond milk from raw almonds (see Homefaking) a fellow yogi introduced me to the concept of pistachio milk which I quickly latched onto due to my preference for pistachios over almonds (although almonds contain a fair amount of magnesium which can help regulate cortisol levels in the body). Several weeks ago, I bought some pistachios from the bulk-goods section (not wanting to pay the full amount for a full box of nuts) shelled them and covered the unsalted pistachios in water in anticipation of what would later be a delicious, blended concoction. While shelling said pistachios, however, I remembered a use for shells in the back of my mind. Was this memory associated with the coffee-ground scrub I read about on Into the Gloss? Could these shells be used for another purpose?

Note the unscratched container pre-blending.

If you're a "person of a certain age" (like me) you probably remember your grandparents doing things in a more "natural" way (indeed, my grandmother cooked chicken soup from scratch- in four inch heels). Since trends often take some time to catch on (indeed, I've heard estimates as high as 4,500 years for the amount of time it took the Agricultural Revolution to catch on) and we can place the Industrial Revolution around the mid nineteenth-century, grandparents who were born in the 20's and 30's likely remember and grew up using more natural ingredients for what we now use anything made by Procter and Gamble for. I believe my grandmother was the one who suggested rinsing my hair with cider vinegar for added shine and indeed, star chef, Marcus Samuelson has been quoted as saying, "[my grandmother] would say, we're gonna do roasted chicken, the next day we're gonna do chicken soup and the third day, we're gonna do chicken dumplings". Such was perhaps the mindset of people who did not have three convenient grocery stores within the vicinity of three square miles. And, to some extent, I love this mindset. I love using the most of what I have. Mostly it's good for the environment but mainly, it's good for my budget. So when I found myself with a bowl-full of pistachio shells, I knew I could use them for something.

While I enjoy the "natural" mindset of yesteryear, I'll admit that I do seek help from contemporary tools. While our grandparents may have been reduced to mortar and pestles in their youth to crush ingredients, I am the now-impoverished owner of a Vitamix blender which could essentially blend a brick. Thinking that I would pulverize said shells into a "rough dust" that could be used for exfoliation, I quickly gave them a spin in my Vitamix, only to have them scratch up the blender's container and looking more like sharp shards at the end: nothing I'd want to get near my skin. It was at this point, I realized that I had originally read about using eggshells to clean residue off the interior of a wine decanter (see Tiny Vessels). Moral of the story... shells can be used as a natural cleaning product, just remember which one.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Chakra Khan

I want to start doing videos to accompany this blog, mostly having to do with the development and maintenance of chakras or centers of energy in the body (according to Ayurvedic tradition). When I was in college, I was forced to take a one-credit karate class in order to fulfill my graduation requirements (it was not so much the class as it was the credit I needed). I would change into my gi or formal uniform and awkwardly walk several blocks to the studio in town trying my best to avoid detection. While I was happy to take what I thought was a blow-off class to finish off my academic career in leisurely style, I quickly became aware that the class was anything but a waste of time. It was here, at a small karate studio in Harrisonburg, Virginia, that I gained my first exposure to the traditions of Eastern Medicine. While not going into too much depth, we learned about the meridians of Chinese Medicine and how they could be applied within the context of self-defense. Meridians, as I remember from class, are certain connections in the body that, when blocked, can be lethal to an opponent (or, if you're an asshole, could be lethal to a non-opponent). According to the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences, meridians are essentially "energy highways" in which your "Qi" or energy flows. I'd previously been familiarized with the concept of of Qi (pronounced chee) through my father's Tai Chi practice and indeed it is the pressure points of the meridians which are accessed in the practice of acupuncture. And as in work with chakras, both Tai Chi and acupuncture seek to keep the flow of energy unblocked throughout the body in order to generally stave off bodily ills. Just as stagnant water might develop issues with growth and bacteria, the above practices seek to keep our Qi moving like a river where it can push away toxins as opposed to feeding them (drinking water can't hurt in this process, either).

Upon hearing about meridians, I was immediately struck by the connectivity of this concept compared to the seeming isolation of Western medicine with its focus on the nervous system or the gastrointestinal system, the heart or head. Indeed, the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences states that:

It is tempting to think of the meridians of the human body the same way as we think of the circulatory system as the meridians are responsible for the distribution of the basic substances throughout the body just like the circulatory system, but here is where the similarities end. Conventional anatomy and physiology would not be able to identify these pathways in a physical sense in the way that blood vessels can be identified.

And just as Eastern Medicine, I assume, refers more to the intangibles in the body (just like Asian parents focus more on teaching their children intangible verbs as opposed to tangible nouns) it also places a greater emphasis on the concept of balance. This is where ideas of yin and yang come in. In the system of meridians, energy flows along channels, each of which has a yin and yang counterpart. According to the above academy, "Qi flows from the chest area along the three arm Yin channels (Lung, Pericardium, and Heart) to the hands. There they connect with the three paired arm Yang channels (Large Intestine, San Jiao and Small Intestine) and flow upward to the head." But as we move West towards the Indian subcontinent (where the Ayurvedic tradition began) we see the fading of ideas regarding yin and yang and the emergence of a new balance between Eastern and Western Medicine.

When I taught eighth-grade Social Studies, students wanted to know why we had to learn about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Indeed, the hierarchy may seem intuitive to a child who, by definition, may be more impulsive in meeting their needs (this is why few may classify Donald Trump as an actual adult). But I have found, ironically, this hierarchy becomes more complicated to an adult who may seek to put the needs of others before themselves (toddler probz) or is faced with difficult decisions where certain energies (or needs) are blocked due to fear or uncertainly (maybe you didn't take the job you wanted because you hoped for a more predictable cash flow, etc. Again, this is why no one would classify Donald Trump as an adult). The chakras, as I have found, correspond quite well to Maslow's Hierarchy (a veritable pillar of Western Psychology) which, I think, makes the idea of energy centers more accessible to Westerners in general.

 Adult goals?

Ironically, the most helpful video I've found on the topic of chakras comes in the form of a cartoon called The Last Airbender (can be found in the video below: it's actually pretty good - and accurate). However, chakras can also be explained quite quickly in writing. I spoke about chakras in Posturing  but will also speak a little about them a little here. More videos and information to come. Enjoy!

Chakras, explained. Enjoy!

Muladhara: Located at the sacrum or "root" of the body. This chakra deals with our basic needs much like Maslow's Hierarchy involving elements which contribute to our survival such as food and water, sleep and a consistent body temperature. According to some holistic practitioners, people often want to attempt to open their final chakra when they start a spiritual practice but just as we can't fulfill our goals of self-esteem if we are malnourished, we can't begin to open our other chakras truly until we unblock the first.

Svadhisthana: The Svadhisthana chakra is located near the public bone and as such deals with creativity. This creativity can be expressed in the form of pro-creation (as its location implies) or simply in creative endeavor. Oftentimes, I wonder if I cook so much because I don't have children. At least I am creating something? I often think of a sea turtle a symbol of Svadhisthana because it lays its eggs under the moon, representing the feminine and lunar energy of the chakra.

Manipura: When people say, "go with your gut", they are talking about the Manipura chakra. Indeed, the chakra is located near the stomach or solar plexus and deals with the themes of confidence and personal power. As such, having confidence to make decisions is dealt with in this chakra as it also is in the third stage of Maslow's Hierarchy.

Anahata: While Manipura deals with what we feel in the gut, Anahata deals with what we feel in our heart and as such encompasses ideas of compassion. When we call someone a "sweetheart" we often mean that they care for the needs of others. Once we care for our own needs, as the previous three chakras dictate, then we can finally care for others as well. I have seen this in my own life as I have felt more secure in the first three chakras.

Vishuddah: The fifth chakra located near the throat and as such, deals with what we say and how we communicate. If we lie (to ourselves or others) and tell un-truths, this chakra can be blocked. And while our body language can unintentionally communicate with others, our intentions count for a lot so Shine a Light or Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

Ajna: The Ajna chakra is located between the eyebrows where the "third eye" is said to be located (and, specifically behind the third cerebral ventricle - Coincidence? I think not). Indeed, Third Eye Blind's early album shows a picture of a woman with her hand over her forehead, covering her "third eye." The third eye is said to be the eye of intuition, sensing that which is invisible to the eye but known to ourselves. The third eye (granted, according to crystalinks.com) is also said to be associated with the pineal gland which is found in the center of the brain's two hemispheres and is not outside of the blood-brain barrier. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the pineal gland is an aspect of the endocrine (read: hormone) system which plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythms. Shaped like a small pinecone, the pineal gland is said to be referenced in much ancient art as in the sculpture below. 

Pineal gland or pine cone? Let's just say it's a representative pine cone.

Sahaswara: Located at the crown of the head so, enlightenment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In the Buff

In the early 90's, getting a mani-pedi with your mom was not a "thing". In my mind, you were either the equivalent of Paris Hilton or a very lucky birthday girl to be in the nail salon and indeed, my parents poo-pooed such institutions all together (my mom because of her low-maintenance mind-set and my dad due to the rampant use of chemicals). And while I sometimes bummed about my inability to get a manicure (I seemed to have more first world problems as a child), they were at least right about nail salons being generally hazardous (see Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers). Thus, the "Nails" section of Into the Gloss, rarely gained views from my laptop... until recently. It was a simple picture of nude-hued and clear polishes which directed my attention to the article, "Naked - Not Bare Nails." In the article, the author spoke about how nail care (cleaning underneath the nails, trimming your cuticles) can be a routine unto itself outside of making them look pretty with polish. In many instances, she says women who care for their nails (in terms of cleanliness) often favor a nude, buffed look over a well designed or colorful polish. Feeling I belonged (or longed to belong) to the former category of women, I was excited to try out a nude nail look upon my last visit to the nail salon (yes, I'm a bad person).

If you're new to "getting buffed" like myself, you can use this video.

While my intention was to receive a pretty, nude look at the salon, my somewhat puritanical upbringing towards manicures made me forgo polish altogether, focusing more on having my nails cleaned, cut, etc. It was here that my manicurist asked if I wanted to get my nails buffed. Happy to receive anything for free, I obliged and with a swift brush over my nails, they became shiny and looked healthy as the blood rushed to the surface, much in the way it does when Scarlet O'Hara pinches her cheeks in Gone with the Wind (which may define the pivotal moment when I started crushing on natural beauty routines). Indeed, bringing the blood to the surface of any area offers a myriad of benefits both seen and unseen.

In Go With The Flow, I referenced the fact that circulation (and the act of increasing it) can play a significant role in both our health and beauty. As blood delivers nutrients throughout the body, helping to get to places it otherwise would not (read: our extremities) can be helpful. Working to circulate blood through our bodies can boost the health of our hair (via scalp massages), possibly jump-start our lymphatic systems (via dry brushing) and, as I learned recently, can be brought to the surface of the nail through buffing or essentially running a device called a nail buff across the nails. This not only helps our nails look healthy but can also ... According to Kidshealth.org, "nails are a type of modified skin." As such, I would assume that the process of exfoliation, via buffing, works much like a dry brush in helping to stimulate our circulatory and lymphatic systems which has been suggested might rid our body of toxins. By bringing the blood to the surface of the nails, I'm also hoping, might bring some heat, which would do wonders for my dry cuticles in the winter. Not only does buffing help our nails help to bring a pleasant hue to our finger tips, it keeps us from exposure to harsh chemicals found in nail polish. So get buffed and enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tiny Vessels

I don't think my blog gets a whole lot of readership so it's likely safe to disclose that a "friend" lost her virginity to a song entitled, "Tiny Vessels" (in retrospect, another song should have been in order). But this post deals with the more intriguing topic of the vessels we keep our water in. Upon my return to Washington, I've been looking for inexpensive and natural ways to filter water. I remember seeing a large dispenser with volcanic rocks at a health-food store and was intrigued. But with its hefty price tag, I had to decline. Thus far, I've read of several methods for water filtration which don't require your standard Brita filters (which can sometimes contain chemicals in and of themselves). Some filtration methods are complicated (involving polymers) and some are not (involving sand) but at the end of the day, I figure that boiling water and letting it cool works just fine. To this extent, the question becomes not how we purify our water but how we beautify its presentation.

I've always had a thing for pitchers. I suppose that when I became and adult, I latched on to the concept of "formal dining" as a way to anchor what quickly became the chaos of adult life. Throughout my 20's, while I wasn't necessarily able to control aspects of the dating world or was confronted with conflicts at work, I could always settle in and use my fine China, decant my beverages and condiments into their appropriate containers and cook a good meal. To some extent, I agreed with the theorists who claimed cooking could take you back in time (where, in my mind, perhaps it was more peaceful). It was here that I started collecting pitchers. I took the ones my grandmother was willing to give away and looked for new ones online. As my tastes often ran towards pricey these pitchers often (and to some extent still do) remained safely secured on their respective webpages. But through my browsing, I feel as though I was able to distill a sufficient collection/wish list of pitchers. As Jennifer Aniston suggests, "keep a pitcher of water around your house to remind you to drink up." And if said pitchers be beautiful, all the better.

Pitchers, pitchers everywhere will hold your drops to drink.

William Yeoward-Classic Pitcher (4 quart): I spent a lot of time searching for pitchers online and while my tastes aren't so sophisticated as some that might justify a four-figure Christofle pitcher, I feel William Yeoward (who generally molds his creations from crystal) creates classic, and well made pieces. In my somewhat irrelevant opinion, he is the first name in glassware. His lines are clean and his prices, while expensive, are somewhat approachable to your average person who doesn't mind indulging in economic fantasy. His Classic Pitcher, to me, is a beautiful piece with enough space to hold a lazy-day's worth of water. And at the end of the day, it makes me happy to look at.

Simon Pearce- Barre Pitcher: Simon Pearce essentially produces glassware in Vermont and while his designs are a bit more bulky than those of William Yeoward, the Barre Pitcher is a beautiful creation with an elegant structure. Like the Classic Pitcher, it has clean lines but has a lip that seems to stretch beyond what regular proportion would dictate, much like a ballerina might stretch beyond where we would normally imagine. Just looking at the pitcher makes you want to take a barre class and, of course, drink water in the process.

Orrefors Sweden-Enjoy Carafe: Apparently, when Kevin Spacey holds a cocktail in House of Cards, he holds a glass from Orrefors "Street" Collection. My grandmother gave me my first Orrefors pitcher and I use it throughout the summer. I sometimes use it as a vase, I sometimes use it to hold water, I sometimes use it to make limoncello. Regardless of what I use it for, I like the way it looks and the Enjoy Carafe is no different. It's quite modern with it's lack of handle and asymmetrical design with a slight slant at the top making the entire design fluid. Furthermore, at $60, it's a comparative steal next to other pieces of glassware.

You'll see an Orrefors glass in Spacey's hand!

So there you have it: a few pieces to enhance your drinking experience. And while these pieces make me happy, water pitchers are like people: it's always what's on the inside that counts. So drink up and enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Go With the Flow

Thus far, I've read a lot on beauty, not on color or brow shape but on the process of "beautifying". And upon this cross-study, I've found that a lot of beautifying has to do with circulation. From dry brushes to Vitamin-E oil to doing headstands on the daily, suggestions as to how to stimulate circulation abound. Recently, I bought a comb worth 40 USD (face plant) to help redistribute the oil from my scalp, across my ultra-dry tresses but this money (obviously) was not completely necessary. As I've always thought, our own bodies often work fine in completing the tasks otherwise left to products and/or technology. So before I bought said comb, I debated about weather to buy a manufactured product or simply use my own hands to make my tresses more glossy. In the end, I bought the comb to prevent me from purchasing a more expensive moisturizer but waiting on the decision further reinforced the idea that we can simply use basic ingredients, or even better, our own appendages to "beautify" our appearance (if we ever want to). This notion is especially relevant in the area of circulation.

Compliments of Into the Gloss

In terms of blood flow, a place where blood flows to is the head, what with its concentration of nerve endings. I recall in eleventh-grade science, our teacher telling us that if we ever got cut on our head, we were gonna bleed badly. But the head offers a place where, if we're not cut, we can stimulate circulation in our bodies. In terms of Vitamin-E, I read last week that using the nutrient in oil form can help stimulate circulation when applied to the scalp (see HuffPost article: Vitamin E Oil: Why You Should Use On Your Body With Caution). But, like many products, our hands do the same task just fine. So with this in mind, I've been putting scalp massages on the schedule, not necessarily with other people but on my own time. Shampooing the hair or simply brushing it out with our fingers provides a great opportunity to get the blood flowing in our northernmost region. Referring back to the HuffPost article an, '[increase in] blood flow to the area could help to enhance the health and strength of the hair follicle,' according to a Dr. Broumand. And as stated in Masseuse on the Loose, giving ourselves or our loved ones a massage is somewhat intuitive.

According to Livestrong.com, scalp massages help you to relax. De-stressing is good for all of us. It can boost our longevity, fight of illness and lead to a better quality of life. But in the short-term, scalp massages can help rid a flaky scalp of dandruff (particularly when a moisturizing oil is used) or even lead to better sleep (again, according to Livestrong.com). But what of the effects of increased circulation? Besides the superficial benefits of brightening our complexion (see above photo), increasing circulation carries nutrients throughout the body. In the case of the scalp, such a process can lead to better hair growth and/or healthier hair once the follicle is nourished. In my case, it can also help redistribute oil throughout my head of hair. And, as I have found, massaging your scalp when your hair is dry is a bit easier than in the shower when your hair is wet and matted to your person. Each day when I get home from work (or even at work when I'm stressed), I simply take a few moments to rub my scalp with my fingers using circular motions. And while I'd likely fork over big bucks to have this done at a salon, you're extra lucky if you come home to a loved one who will do this for you for free. And if they need a little assistance in the process, the video below should be a help. Enjoy!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hold the Phone

In reference to the former Posturing post, I wanted to focus more on a specific aspect of said publication. As I get older I feel lucky in saying, "I'm returning to work," at summer's end. Such is the life of a teacher, we don't necessarily get expense accounts but we get the summers off (which I suppose equals things out in the end). However, as I return to school, I can no longer check my texts from the couch or view my laptop while laying in bed. Joining the rest of the work force, I am sitting or standing for most of the day. And in doing so, posture becomes a "hotter" issue than it might in the lazy, hazy days of summer.

Part of a return from summer means an increased use of my cell phone and by proxy, worse posture. Loads of yoga and more time "posture practicing" in the summer often leads to a more aligned spine and better breath as I find air can flow naturally from my lungs to nose rather than detour through a crooked neck that's always hunched over a phone. Last year, my first visit to the chiropractor resulted in a diagnosis of "cell phone neck" or, "[l]ooking down, dropping your head forward [and changing] the natural curvature of your neck," as defined by the Cleveland Clinic's article: "Text Neck: Is Smarphone Use Causing Your Neck Pain? Indeed, institutions like the Cleveland Clinic have noted an increase in younger patients suffering from ailments previously associated with the elderly such as a strained neck or back. Essentially, lowering one's neck to view the contents of a cell phone puts greater pressure and strain on associated muscles. According to Dr. Bolash (via the Cleveland Clinic), '[n]eck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head, about 10 to 12 pounds... [F]or every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles." In this sense, aligning your ears with your shoulders while looking at your phone can save you a world of hurt.

Holding the phone at eye level: good for your posture, good for selfies.

Moving from the Cleveland Clinic to Seventeen Magazine (not a large jump as far as I'm concerned), an article entitled, "10 Tips For Taking The Perfect Selfie" suggests readers hold their cameras over their heads to, "give... selfies an artsy feel, while [providing] the opportunity to show off some of your cute outfit." While such advice seems the fodder of (young) millennials, it adds up to words of wisdom as far as posture and thereby muscular health is concerned. Holding your phone closer to eye level keeps your head and neck more naturally aligned, helping to avoid shoulders which slouch or even lower back pain. With this in mind, I've found it a bit difficult to maintain a level eye gaze. So much falls slightly at or below our eye level. But holding our phones (and heads high) can be a simple task which allows for greater benefit in the future.

Perhaps cell phones are making us devolve?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Taking Stock

At the beginning of the last century, Albert Einstein proved that time is relative. Its passing is marked in comparison to other events. We know we are moving compared to a dog sitting still. We know (theoretically) that if one were to travel at the speed of light, he or she would be traveling so fast in comparison that movement on Earth would seem to halt. But long before Einstein's Theory of Relativity, it could be assumed that people marked the passing of time by the change in seasons and thereby, available food. Indeed, while our days may be whittled down to a series of moments between stand-up meetings and conference calls, many calendars still refer to the major seasons and events of the year. And even if we don't know it, our bodies naturally go along with such changes.

Fall, for me, marks a unique point in the year. It is the time in which I return to Virginia and work, forcing me to reassess my budgetary and culinary priorities as my "bounty" in both areas change. While the climates and therefore foods remain relatively similar between Connecticut and Virginia my culinary needs change as I cook for one and therefore use one budget to buy goods. Cooking for myself means a little less meat and a few more veggies than I would otherwise prepare... and a lot more chocolate. And in the beauty department, a change in weather often means a change in my skincare routine and product usage.

When I was first reading cookbooks, I always loved the pantry section which listed items one should have on hand to make a myriad of dishes. I think it was the "list form" which drew me to this section which is why I was probably attracted to cookbooks in the first place. Over time, I've worked hard to establish a well edited pantry which accounts for both my cooking style and budget. While often difficult to maintain such "strictness" in a world of overabundant options, I find myself relying more and more on a few ingredients to get me through the months. Below, a few of my favorites that often find their way into my pantry or beauty counter during the cooler months.

Olive Oil: I'm not a huge fan of olive oil, which is funny because I love olives. But the substance is healthy for you, providing mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can, "help lower [the] risk of heart disease," according to the Mayo Clinic. I use it for sauteeing (my favorite form of cooking) and in marinades (my favorite form of seasoning). It also works well in one's "beauty pantry" or group of items used in heavy rotation in the bath or shower. Here, olive oil can be used as an oil cleanse (recently, Into the Gloss came out with an article entitled, "Got Acne? Put Oil On It") or as a hair mask, adding moisture to frayed tresses. As I use this product heavily both in the culinary and beauty realms, it always finds a place on my shelves. My favorite? Bertolli Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.

Grapeseed Oil: As stated before, I'm not a huge fan of olive oil's flavor, however, it carries enough health benefits and applications that I use it on the daily. But grapeseed is an oil I've begun rotating into my routine due to its neutral taste and high smoke point. Sauteeing things as much as I do, I noticed my onions were becoming burned and/or soggy when put through the caramelization process. Using grapeseed oil seems to give off less steam and an even temperature as it cooks, making both myself and my onions happy. :)

White Vinegar: While you can find olive oil in my kitchen for cooking and in my bathroom for beauty, you can find white vinegar in similar places as well as my hallway closet for cleaning. White vinegar is a veritable tour de force of applicability. In the kitchen, I use it to pickle vegetables and make dressings while in the bathroom, I use it as a rinse to give my tresses a good detox and shine. In any other area, I add it to water along with several drops of tea tree oil (Desert Essence is my favorite) to make a gentle but effective cleaner (both my yoga mats and counters benefit from this). I also mix it with baking soda to form a paste that can be spread on the tub or bathroom tiles to remove grease or stains. As I use it so frequently, I purchase it in the largest tub possible... and quickly decant it into Kikkoman containers (more on soy sauce later).

Cider Vinegar: I may not use cider vinegar as much as I do white vinegar but its application certainly runs deep in the culinary and beauty departments. Here, I mix it with honey to make a small, detoxifying morning drink. I use it in various dishes and as an astringent to tone the skin. I also use it as an anti-dandruff rinse in my hair as a chemical-free alternative to shampoo.

White Balsamic Vinegar: Of all the items in my pantry, white, balsamic vinegar may be the most luxurious. Adding subtle flavor to any dish, it is used strictly in dressings or as a dressing itself. While vinegars are the most ubiquitous items on my pantry... the white balsamic, with its sophisticated zip ranks among my favorite. (Hint, mixing it with a freshly juiced orange and olive oil = salad dressing goals.)

Balsamic Vinegar: As I don't buy the highest quality forms of balsamic vinegar, I tend to use it more freely and in more dishes than its white counterpart. I generously add it to dressings, marinades, glazes, dips and sometimes as variation on a stir-fry sauce. To use the condiment in stir-frying, simply pour it over almost-cooked vegetables and watch it simultaneously begin to evaporate while adding a complex flavor to your dish. Some other recipes include:

Soy Sauce: With my beloved vinegars taken care of, my next, favorite condiment would be soy sauce. Leading into summer, I toyed with the idea of growing soybeans of my own and converting them into a sauce. However, the process is somewhat laborious. Yet, if one does choose to buy soy sauce like myself, +heidi swanson  of 101 Cookbooks suggests choosing a brand which is naturally (read: slowly) fermented over ones quickly processed. Although expensive, Dean and Deluca carries a great one which can be found here. And while I generally use soy sauce in the same dishes over and over, I'm surprised at its versatility when I expand it outside of my typical, culinary habits. The product works well as an addition to stir-fries and dressings and often serves as the base of my marinades for both meat and vegetables. A few reliable and exciting recipes lie below.

Salt: A no-brainer. No matter your budget or cooking style, salt is often found in every pantry across the universe or country. Adding extra flavor to homemade soups or enhancing existing ones in ready-made dishes, salt is that ingredient that lends an extra je ne sais quoi to dishes (indeed, I heard chef Thomas Keller would sprinkle sea salt on his dishes before consuming them). But not only does salt work in the culinary world, it can also be used in the bathroom in the form of Epsom salts (see Rubbing Alcohol All Over) or added to coconut oil to form a scrub for the skin or lips.

Pepper: A long time ago, I walked through a market in Grand Central Station and marveled at the herbs and spices set out on display. This summer, I was fortunate to return to the station and buy some. However, rather then invest in a blend of spices, I decided to stick with the basics, mainly, buying pepper. Just like tomatoes, it's a little known fact that peppercorns are actually a fruit. And unlike the tasteless grounds found in restaurant shakers, fresh peppercorns add a fruity, spicy note to foods. While I don't often use it alone, I consistently add it to marinades and dressings to obtain a hint of complex flavor.

Mustard Seed: When I was in college, my friend and I were fortunate to see a rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream at a local theater. During the performance, I remember having forgot that one of the character's name was Mustard Seed. Ever since then, I think I've been a bit intrigued by mustard seeds and, like soybeans, thought about growing them in my garden. However, store bought mustard seeds are fine and can usually be ground into a powder and added as a kick to dressings and marinades. You can also use them to make your own mustard through Melissa Clark's recipe in New York Times Cooking.

Honey: Like salt, honey is a no brainer. And, like salt, I use honey in both my beauty and food pantries for its taste and antimicrobial properties. As I wrote many blog posts ago, water is essentially at the bottom of my food pyramid. As I learn that what goes in our bodies seems to have a greater effect than what goes on our bodies, I try to drink a lot of water to flush out my system, energize my muscles and generally re-hydrate myself. To this extent, I add honey as a way to support my local economy and ecosystem (locally produced is easy to find and can help with seasonal allergies) as well as my health. According to WebMD, "sugar is sugar" but honey (particularly buckwheat honey) has been shown to effectively soothe a cough and may help in stemming the spread of bacteria. To date, I add honey to my water each day and apply a honey mask each week to clean my skin. Although technically unproven as an anti-inflammatory for the skin, it always makes my skin feel supple and brightens my complexion. As stated in Poppin' Bottles, my favorite type of honey-based mask is one made from the honey-turmeric combination.

Garlic: Garlic is a pretty ubiquitous ingredient in my pantry. I love alliums. While I was scared of onions as a kid (I thought they were so spicy and made my grandmother give me a bowl of chicken soup without them) I have come to love them as an adult. I throw garlic in hummus and in dressings. I mash it up and sprinkle it with salt to make a paste and I used to boil the skins to make a flavorful stock composed of all those elements I would otherwise compost. And while garlic might only be found in my culinary pantry, it certainly does good by the body. According to Eating Well, studies have shown that raw, chopped garlic can help reduce the risk of certain cancers. It is also well known that garlic is a tool in maintaining a healthy heart and has even been shown to possess antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities according to the CNN article entitled "Protect your Heart with Fresh Garlic." And while some poo-poo the smell, I happen to love the scent on my hands.

Onion: Another allium, onions, to my taste, lends a sharp or sweet note to any dish. Able to be pickled, caramelized or added as an aromatic, it essentially goes into 95% of dishes I make. I love caramelized onions and make them whenever I can and on a budget, I often use extra onions as opposed to the aromatic triumvirate of celery, onions and carrots. Not only do onions add flavor to a dish, they also possess some pretty powerful cleaning properties. According to Wise Bread (the website that has great ideas for budget-living) onions can help to clean a BBQ, clean knives (and your face) and/or cut down on harsh smells. In fact, I remember an old roommate splitting and onion in half rather than washing dishes in college. To this extent, onions are a multipurpose miracle in my kitchen.

So there you have it, my exhaustive list of pantry items that serve me well as we round the bend from the summer months into something cooler.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Topsy Turvy

Currently, I am thinking of a third incarnation for the title for my blog. The blog was originally called "Eat Your Ego" followed by its current title. However, I've lately been searching for something different. Recently, I've been toying with a variation of "Through the Looking Glass". "Through the Wine Glass" and "Through the Mason Jar" have been contenders but seem to miss encompassing the theme of healthy eating. Essentially, when we look at what food and beauty products (the good and the bad) do to our bodies we can sometimes encounter Alice's Wonderland in which, "everything [is] what it isn't and contrarily-wise what it [isn't] it [is]," to use some poetic licensing. So I'm looking for a title to encapsulate the magical and microscopic world of our bodies which we often need a looking/magnifying glass to view. But for now, since this post is actually about spending time upside-down, I'll settle on a subtitle rather than a main one.

Sooner or later, we all fall through the rabbit hole.

When I was in college, my professor had a map that seemed to be upside down, much like Alice sees when she falls through the rabbit hole. I never asked her about it but I was curious, thinking it was a misprinted map that she got for free (poor teachers, you know). However, one day, she pointed to the fact that the map was printed from the perspective of someone living in Australia and it kind of blew my mind. Such is what happens when we see things from a new perspective. Our minds often need time to adjust but when they do, we're able to see things in a completely new light. Indeed, when I was attending the same college, I read a book by a Zen practitioner (maybe Jon Kabat Zinn) who stated that seeing things differently often exercises our minds, breaking the old habits of seeing what we expect and exposing us to something our brains have to freshly comprehend. His advice did not take on Herculean tone. Essentially, he suggested one sit in a place they normally didn't sit, take a new route to work or pack something different for lunch: little things that could add up to a large change. This same philosophy was encountered in a yoga class taken yesterday which helped us view things from a completely new perspective: upside-down.

Map from an Australian perspective.

Currently, I am at a yoga retreat in Mexico, where we do some yoga and some workshops. The workshop yesterday was on back-bends which our instructor told us, "releases tension from the spine." Apparently, a lot of emotion can be stored in the spine which can come up and thus, be released when it is stretched. Additionally, when we stretch our spines through traditional back-bends (think of the bridges you did in gymnastics growing up or, if you were extra-lucky, in gym class) we view the world upside down and through a new perspective, allowing us to form new neural pathways, according to Zahra Vaezi of Arlington Bikram Yoga. To this extent, back-bends can serve the dual purpose of healing both our bodies and minds. Indeed, Zahra noted that patients with Alzheimer's are sometimes asked to walk barefoot in order to encounter new sensations which, in turn, can also help them develop new neural pathways. To receive such benefits through a back-bend, simply lay on your back (in comfortable clothing). Bring your arms up and place your palms on the floor next to your ears. Place your feet on the floor and, using your arm strength, push your body up so only your palms and feet remain planted. Hold each back-bend for several seconds and repeat if desired. This pose will help strengthen and stretch your spine while releasing tension and giving you a new perspective... much like Alice receives as she delves into her wonderland. Enjoy!