Sunday, December 18, 2016

Putzing

When I was young, my grandfather claimed to have completed his Bar Mitzvah in three, separate languages... a fact which left me thoroughly impressed. There was Hebrew, which was pretty standard fare for any Bar or Bat Mitzvah before we all went soft and let kids preform their Torah readings in English. There was German in order to incorporate the linguistic necessities of his extended family. And there was Yiddish. What I didn't realize at the time is that Yiddish is really not a language in and of itself but a more colloquial form of speaking that basically utilizes aspects of both German and Hebrew. Of course, once I found this out, I felt a bit cheated out of my earlier amazement. But, to his credit, my grandfather was a great Yiddish speaker. We didn't have dirt on our faces when we came in from playing, we had schmutz. We were never acting crazy as kids, we were acting mshuge (pronounced: meh-shug like the Suge in Suge Knight). And as I grew older, I came to enjoy my grandfather's use of Yiddish as both a cultural and endearing act. One such word used by both my grandfather and the general population is putz. As a noun, a putz is someone who is rather clumsy but act of putz-ing means something a bit different. To putz, as we all know, is to putter, tinker or do something of little consequence that occupies our time and generally brings us enjoyment. However, as the long winter months approach us, I've found, ironically, that putzing with our routines can lead to big changes... particularly when the cold weather leads to bad habits...

We all putz from time to time, engaging in small tasks to occupy ourselves either as a distraction or form of relaxation but putzing with our bad habits, particularly during the winter months, can be something necessary for good health and a sense of well-being. Because... it's easy to eat poorly in the U.S. but especially so in winter. Whether it be holiday parties or a simple fire that roars in our stomachs during the colder months, it's easy to go down a path that makes us feel shitty if we're not careful. This is not to say excess doesn't have its place. Indeed, a little holiday cheer is needed but I find my body sometimes yearns to get back on track and not fed fudge for eighteen hours straight. So, herein lies a few tricks I've picked up to restabilize my body (and mind) when needed. Think of them as Christmas gifts to yourself and, enjoy!

Bone Broth: Within the past year, bone broth made a pronounced appearance on the "foodie" radar. Publicized last year for its healing effects on the gut and delivery of collagen to our skin, bone broth recipes were touted on distinguished sources from Hemsley + Hemsley to The Splendid Table. But I didn't come around to the idea of bone broth until I thought it could be used as a remedy for my dry skin.

Thanks to family, I have a severe bout of dry skin in the winter. Cracked hands, heels and lips make for a relatively uncomfortable season although excessive sweating and oil in the summer never really make it to be a good time to be in my own skin. ;) However, after doing a bit of analysis on my diet, I thought (like cancer) genetics might not be the entire culprit and that I could do more on my own to resolve my issue.

As I learned and touted in Candid-dida, food plays a large role in how we feel and to some extent, as I noticed my mood swings and anxiety decrease in proportion to my sugar intake, I began to think (in a novel stroke of genius) that such sugars didn't provide adequate moisture or essential oils in my body's system to keep me going through the winter months. What was missing from my diet, I noticed, was meats and good fats that could do the trick of keeping my body warm and comfortable on a cold day. So, after coming across a delicious broth recipe made with beef bones (used as a base for pho in this circumstance), I've started making a (crock)pot of broth each week, throwing everything from veggies and beans to airline peanuts in the soup when needed. To make, simply follow the "broth" portion of the recipe in the link above.

Even Venetians "mask" in winter.

Masking: Sometimes, doing something uber-luxurious (if not cheap) can help to pull our routines out of a rut and onto a more stable course (hey, there's a reason why masked events like Carnivale and Mardi Gras fall in winter, right?). Within the season, facial masks are a great way to over compensate for the lethargy that can befall a beauty routine when we'd rather spend our extra minutes in bed, And masks can be a fun thing to experiment with given our variety of skin types and needs of the season. If you do in fact want to go uber-luxurious (and ceremonial) May Lindstrom makes a well-regarded mask entitled "The Problem Solver" and also sells a Facial Treatment Brush and Masque Treatment Bowl for "superior" application. However, if you're like me, you might want to put a less expensive mask in the (reusable) bowl and apply it with the (reusable) brush 'cause eff expensive things that run out. In winter, Greek-yogurt can serve as a great hydrating mask in a pinch but, if you're looking for something a little more "middle-of-the-road" Into the Gloss has developed a comprehensive, hydrating list here.

"Spring" Clean By Candlelight: If bone broth was all the rage in 2016, the Danish idea of Hygge seems to be trending for the subsequent year. Defined as a somewhat intangible form of coziness, methods for generating hygge have been developed in Nordic countries for decades (i.e. "when it's cold out, stay indoors and light a fire" according to the Financial Times). However, as I can be a bit of a putz and don't like to generally be around fires I'm responsible for, I find cleaning provides a subtle coziness even if only serving as a way to rest the eyes from clutter.

Fireplaces and candles are good "hygge helpers."

We spend more time indoors in winter so why no make the area as hospitable as possible? For me, cleaning presents a "double-whammy" of both comfort and accomplishment. Having cleaned my bathroom for the first time since 2011 (yup), I noticed how comfortable I felt being in the space and how I looked forward to winding down in the evening with a warm shower and, of course, facial mask. Also, while winter ruts can happen, cleaning even the smallest of spaces presents us with a feeling of accomplishment which can boost our moods and confidence. And if you choose to clean by candlelight to generate some hygge, all the better. According to the Financial Times, hygge, at its core, is a set of common sense practices for the colder months. When it's cold, light a fire and to keep yourself from cabin fever... clean your cabin. 😉

Help Out: No matter which season of the year we experience, helping out is a universal ticket to feeling better. And while we may experience our individual ruts, helping to pull someone out of his or her's almost always balances the scale so that both parties land on higher ground. As the old saying goes, "a candle does not lose its flame by lighting another candle." It only generates more hygge. 😉

Recently, I came across an article on the capture of Anne Frank (the Anne Frank House does not think her family's discovery was due to a hard-and-fast betrayal as otherwise thought) and was hit square in the face with the notion that, we do live in a time when we can do things to make life better for others. For me, I've been trying to think of ways to help those in Aleppo and it's difficult when issues seem bigger than your small world but, as it turned out, there was a small fundraiser for Aleppo at a burger joint by me. Like cleaning and/or putzing acts of help can be small but have profound effects.

So there you have it, a few ways to putz around with your routine to make winter a happier, healthier time for all. Happy Holidays. Happy hygge. Happy happy.




Monday, December 5, 2016

Eastern Athletics

As cool as Parkour sounds in its actual name, it sounds equally as stupid once you learn what it is. A quick search for its "concrete" definition and description of acolytes proves that Parkour, otherwise know as, "a quasi-commando series of leaps, vaults, rolls, and landings designed to help a person avoid whatever lies in his path," (according to the New Yorker) is essentially asinine. For one, you're essentially unable to preform Parkour tricks beyond an urban setting... where natural obstacles are few and far between. And even within the urban setting (read: Denver) the most dedicated of Parkour devotees will still admit that the practice is not exactly applicable to real world situations. And yet, this shouldn't be surprising. In modern times, most of us relegate our workout times to isolated areas and spaces: an hour at the gym, a two-hour spin class, etc. Indeed, we've even separated the act of athletics as something done outside the scope of our regular activities. But perhaps, while Parkour offers some glimpse of athletic applicability within our day-to-day tasks (sure, we can jump over that desk as opposed to walking around it) we often (I'm assuming) perform our isolated athletics because of how they make us feel once we leave their given space. Whether the benefits be physical or mental, athletics can and should leave us with a feeling and knowledge that go beyond our stringent routines.

Run for fun? 

When I was younger, but old enough that my brothers were able to take care of themselves, I used to love going to lunch with my parents. I think that on some primal level it reminded me of a time when it was just the three of us. Of course, a similar variation would unfold over the course of my youth where I would attend lunch with either my mother or father alone. On sunny days, my mother and I would sit on the patio of T.G.I. Friday's and I would think I had literally died and gone to heaven. The variation with my father however, was a bit more pressed for conversation. Having found interest in Eastern Religion, I really couldn't keep up with the conversation and the few times I did try move the dialogue along, asking my father how long he and his fellow Buddhists "sat around" for during their retreats, I was promptly rebuked with the response, "we're not just sitting around, Elissa." Henceforth, I more or less shut down, refusing to ask my father questions about his practice until around high school.

In high school, I often saw my father go into the guestroom for an hour to meditate, at which point we had to tone down the volume of our own activities within the house. After an hour or so had passed and my father emerged, I was always happy to see he had completed what seemed to me as a thoroughly boring endeavor but was also left curious as to how something that still seemed like "sitting around" would change the world as my father claimed meditation could. When I worked up the courage to inquire on behalf of my curiosity, my father claimed that, "the goal of meditation is to bring your experiences beyond the room." While I still haven't fallen for Easter Religion, I've found myself becoming more and more involved in Eastern ideas through yoga. And as I've advanced in my practice, I too have come to see that the goal of the movements done in class is to carry their benefits into one's daily life and routine.

As I've developed in my yoga practice, I've found that most issues with tension can stem from certain "hubs" in our bodies or places where many muscle fibers connect (mainly the hips, shoulders and jaw). And once these areas are loosened, our bodies feel exponentially better both in and outside of the studio. It's as if stretching these regions can lead to a sum greater than our individual, bodily parts. Below, I've included a few stretches or ideas which can loosen such areas as well as ways to "check in" with them in the real world. Enjoy!

 Eagle Pose

Hips (and shoulders): In general, our bodies are as unique as our personal experiences. But, despite this fact, most of us suffer time to time with tenseness in our hips... particularly if you are of the female variety. In my case, a pair of flat feet often lead me to consistently turn out my hips, perhaps so that not all my body weight falls inward like a house imploding (see Life as a House). But for other women (and men), hips are where one stores a lot of tension, particularly if there are memories which have been repressed. And while our emotional states may take more than yoga to heal (although it's a somewhat effective remedy) we can begin to loosen our hips with a few postures from the Bikram series. Below (and above) is one I find relatively effective... if not painful. Enjoy! 



Letting someone else explain Eagle Pose 'cause, "a'int no one got time for that."

Jaw: In general, the jaw and hips (or at least the tensions that reside in both) are related. As they tell us in yoga, tension in the hips generally equates to tension in the jaw. What they also say is that, "the difference between an advanced yogi and a beginner, lies in the face." This is to say that while an advanced yogi may give no clues as to their internal struggles on the mat, I'm constantly being told to relax my face in class. When we have tension, it can manifest in the hips as well as the jaw and while there's no specific posture in yoga which alleviates jaw pain or tension, there are several exercises (featured in Shape Magazine) that can help in this predicament.

Open Wide: According to Shape, several exercises exist which can relax the muscles surrounding the jaw (if not the jaw itself). The first begins with opening one's jaw as wide as possible and then allowing it to relax. Like the isometric stretches done in yoga (which requires one to utilize muscle tension as opposed to motion) stretching the muscles and then allowing for a release eventually leads to relaxation. Try doing a wall squat and you'll get the general idea.

Squats, squats, squats, squats, squats

Savasana: When I said there's no yoga pose to accommodate relaxation in the jaw, I lied. While it doesn't necessarily correspond to the jaw specifically, savasana or "dead body pose" allows for an attempt at total relaxation. Savasana, albeit "easy" on the surface, is known as both the most difficult and most important posture in the Bikram series. Laying flat on the back, one is supposed to relax with their heels touching and feet splayed to the side. The palms also face up and arms remain by one's side. While the general idea of a body scan has always intimidated me (are my arms relaxed?) Savasana provides one with a point of reference (the floor) in which one can measure their relaxation. Upon arriving to yoga early the other day, I coincidentally remained in savasana for around fifteen minutes before class (within class, one remains in savasana for about two minutes at most). As you may have guessed, a few interesting things happened.

-Your hips have no choice but to relax: In Letting Go, I spoke about how relaxation can often be a challenging process both mentally and physically. However, when laying against the floor for fifteen minutes, you have the force of gravity on your (back) side which really gives us no choice in the matter. As with many things relaxation, I've found, is a decision, but sometimes, it's nice to let something "greater" take the wheel and do it for us. This doesn't mean it's not painful (your hips will hurt) it just means it's easier.

-Your sinus might clear: Laying on your back against a hard surface for fifteen minutes, I realized, can do great things for the sinuses. Since I've been having a bout of stuffiness due to consistent food allergies, laying back and motionless helped drain anything from my sinus region into my throat in a process that was not elegant but which allowed for expulsion.

Dead Body Pose... and appropriate name for savasana conducted at 8 p.m.

Shoulders: I'm sure many of us have tension in our hips. I'm sure many of us have tension in our jaws. But I'm willing to bet almost all of us have tension in our shoulders. As I joked to my fiancee the other day, I read in a meme that tension in the upper back means one feels unloved. It may be true but, in general, our daily activities... typing, driving, etc. can create tension in our back and if a prolonged savasana provides a way to effortlessly release tension in our hips, a massage can provide both an effortless and painless way to release tension in the shoulders.

In Health Before Beauty, I spoke about the high price of spa treatments. But while you might not find a house-maid with a gluten intolerance as the saying goes, you'll almost always find one who needs a massage... which means it's something that can benefit all of us. So, luckily, a massage is something we can give ourselves, give our loved one or get for around $15 at the mall kiosk. But if you're really content on loosening your shoulders through stretching eagle pose is often an effective remedy as well as "checking in" with your shoulders at a few points throughout the day.

-driving: Just as there are certain points of out body which hold tension, there are certain points in our day which serve as beneficial times to "check in" with our bad selves. One point for me is when I'm driving. I'm unsure whether it's the position of the steering wheel or the subconscious awareness that I'm operating a two-ton vehicle but the process of driving, I've noticed, puts my shoulders on edge. As I'm driving, obviously, I'm not engaging in stretching exercises however, I've found that bringing a simple awareness to the fact my shoulders are tense, ironically, begins to loosen them. It also helps me keep an eye out for any tenseness the next time I drive.

-sitting: It's ironic that sitting qualifies as a relaxing activity. It's inverse: "standing on one's feet all day" seems to be the pinnacle of discomfort in our culture. But sitting can perhaps make us lazy because, when I sit, I slouch. Again, it's not about judgement, simply bringing an awareness to our posture helps us correct it if needed... an activity I seem to spend most of my time doing.

So where does this leave us? As I've found, checking in with our bodies throughout the day and making an attempt to relax them makes yoga a bit easier. And while this experience may be personal, it can be beneficial whether you're a yoga practitioner, runner or binge-watcher. As science shows, increased relaxation carries the benefits of protecting one's heart, boosting immunity and/or lowering the chance of stroke (according to The Huffington Post). But beyond that, I think, it helps us work towards something greater. And as Fredrich Nietzsche once claimed, "he who has a why... can bear almost any how." Which is to say, checking in with our bodies gives us a sort of purpose... to make yoga easier. ;)


Monday, October 31, 2016

Life as a House

Awhile back, I, along with a guy I was dating, rented Kevin Kline's Life As a House. Of course, the movie was pretty much as bad as our relationship and I was relieved when both things came to an end. However, with my evolving views on food, I've come to view our bodies as houses in which foods serves as the decor.

Although I went to school awhile back, I remember learning in my education courses that students gain strong understanding through comparisons. While one may not learn all the details of the Magna Carta signing (according to Jon Stewart, American students are required by law to only know it was signed in 1215), students will generally understand the document's fundamental purpose by comparing it to a situation in which they've asked their "strict" parents for greater leniency at home. And, lately (for whatever reason) I've been comparing the foods we eat to the decoration of a house.

I love interior decorating. Unfortunately, I don't decorate much in the small room I rent in D.C. But I dream of the day I can do it. However, due to budgetary constraints, I'm big on accents over essentials. While I love to shop, the thought of looking for a couch makes my stomach turn. Looking for a lamp however, turns me on... partially for the sake of the pun. However, this emphasis on accouterments or decorative accents once traveled into my dietary habits as well, eating non-essential sugars before delving into any minerals or proteins my body needed. And, as such, my body was thrown into an unbalanced rage of hormones, food addictions and mood swings... all of which I thought were normal until I finally went "couch shopping."

#couchgoals

I refer to the post Candid-dida a lot but, truly, many of my current thoughts on food derive from the practices cited within. Switching purely to a natural diet (replete with Soy Dream and Almond Breeze) woke me up to the nutrients my body truly craved as well as the way different foods made my body feel... for better or worse. What I truly learned was that my body was consistently hungry because it wasn't getting the nutrients it required, just as someone might be constantly uncomfortable if they never had a seat in a house to sit on. While one may spend time on the hard floor, in the above situation, they'd constantly be searching for a comfortable couch.

I remember shopping for couches with my parents at a young age... my brother and I dragged along to sterile warehouses because my parents couldn't find (or more likely wouldn't pay) for a sitter on a Saturday afternoon. Such was the mindset of the previous generation: they saved for essentials, bought them and made their kids behave while they did it (and when they didn't, they couldn't go to McDonald's). Fully including myself in the forthcoming group, the generation of today (with some exceptions) is of a new breed. We're either too poor, too impatient or, (in my case) too indifferent and delusional to save for something as utilitarian as a couch - how else would we pay for our free-range chicken? On the whole, we want different things and that's great. I remember reading in Bazaar that a particular socialite claimed to favor, "[having] the latest shirt on her back rather than a chair to sit on." But, perhaps, we as millennials are still maturing because, as I found with eating, there's a certain humility in sacrificing what's exciting (chocolate) for something less sexy (chicken) but helps keeps our bodies (and, by proxy, lives) on an even keel.

It's important to have a couch and a concept of its spelling.

Youth is an exciting time of life. By definition, there are less responsibilities and more time left over for pleasure-seeking. For me, this temptation came in the form of sweets. I'm not sure if growing up in a family where sugary cereal was shunned set me off but candy released my inner Catholic school-girl and because my vices were laced with sugar, I literally became hooked consuming cupcakes, cookies and (mostly) ice cream in lieu of broccoli, fish or anything healthy. Because to make up for the caloric density of the products I was consuming, I let go of those less tempting just as one might forgo the purchase a couch or table to hang a pretty picture on the wall. Indeed, akin to the interviewee from Bazaar, I filled my "house" with cute end tables and paintings before realizing I had no place to sit. One may say, empty calories led to an empty house. So below, I've made my own little comparisons from furniture to food - those which are for function and those which are "fancy". Enjoy!

From the Couch to the Kitchen Table: Even if you live in a studio, you'll usually have a small kitchen, bathroom and living room/bedroom. And while bathrooms often come equipped with related essentials, the smallest space to the largest will have a place to eat (table) a place to sit (futon) and a place to sleep (futon) - at least in my situation. A larger house is usually a play off  this simple structure, simply with more rooms to sleep and sit - often featuring nicer fabrics. And while humans live in similar structures, we often benefit most from the same foods.

There's a reason why kale is a super-food. It's generally healthy for all individuals (barring some conflict with thyroid issues). For the most part, a diet centered around dark, leafy greens, beans and meat is what will provide most humans with their core nutrients. If you're ever feeling low, try the recipes below.

       

Accouterments: Once our core pieces (or foods) are in place, we can make things a little more comfortable... or flavorful. This is where nightshades come in. Just as throw blankets, pillows and decorative lamps seem to make a room more cozy/habitable, sauces, broths and herbs can serve to "spice up" a particular dish. Tomato sauce over chicken, dipping cucumbers in baba ganoush and serving potatoes alongside a meat dish can add to the sense of comfort and flavor it delivers without often serving as the main feature.

Kitchen Utensils: I've written nuts up as a form of kitchen utensils because, while they're essentially essential, they often go unnoticed to guests in a home or someone new to healthy eating. As such, I've only begun adding nuts to my diet, mostly because you can buy them in bulk, controlling the size of your purchase and also because they last a long time and serve as a great source of protein, magnesium and selenium... the last two of which can help with a good night's rest.

And just as one has a unique preference about how they might decorate a house, individuals often prepare ingredients to suit their specific inclinations for temperature, texture and cooking style. As for me, I'm a lover of liquids. Soups, juices and even dips qualify as my favorite physical forms of food. And so, when it comes to nuts, my blender has become a proverbial trash can in which I throw my half-full boxes of coconut juice, quarter cups of coffee and half eaten chocolates alongside a handful of nuts to create my new favorite drink... adulterated nut milk. For a basic recipe (sans half-eaten chocolate) click here.


Art: While I like creating art, I'd really never think of buying it in its most formal sense. Aside from a few $35 pieces from Marshall's and maybe several drawings sold online, I can't wrap my head around why anyone would pay $20 million for a painting. It's not that I don't (and will never) have that kind of money... I can somehow see why a person of a certain tax bracket might drop 1 million on a ring, several million on a house or several homes for that matter. But a painting, something that doesn't even break into the third-dimension, should not add up to something which could feed an army, I think. So, unless you have a lot of disposable income and/or a body that can metabolize calories in the blink of an eye (which might just make you Melania Trump), most of us, financially and physically, are destined to watch what we eat (and spend), making sacrifices here and there... walking the tightrope wire of balance. And, that's not such a bad thing. 'Cause if things came easy, we might rely on such exciting sugars to fuel our days, playing fast and loose with our hormones as cited in the situation above.

$259 million at auction.

So, as I see my youth phase out in favor of a more solid entry to adulthood, it's no coincidence that I've had to make certain concessions as to what my reality is over what my idea of it may be. It's come with a realization of what I can spend (or more often can't) and what I want to spend things on. And yet, as I begin to eat more naturally my spending has gone down as I literally loosen my grip on lattes, alcohol and ice cream in favor of kale that's on sale. The ultimate irony is that, as I buy healthier items, my body is not constantly searching to spend on new ones which can deliver the nutrients it actually needs. Gone are the days of buying ice cream and wanting to buy more... either to satisfy sugar cravings or in an attempt to give my body the nutrients it needs. I've finally become comfortable on the couch.




Friday, October 14, 2016

The Long and "Short" of It

In Health Before Beauty, I wrote about my flirtation with relaxing my frequency of leg shaving/waxing, particularly as Winter rounds the bend. The inspiration, ironically, has come from my yoga routine where I see men effortlessly dress in loose shorts while women don tiny shorts and a sports bra to remain comfortable in a 105 degree room. It's not so much about the clothing but the routines outside of class which accompany them. Wearing such garments means keeping up with your shaving/waxing routine on a religious basis and, frankly, I've grown tired (and a little broke) from it. However, I'm not trying to offend any eyes in the studio where the yoga practiced is strenuous enough. Rather, I'm planning to cash in on my long wait for baggy, 90's clothes to reemerge.

Loving sweatpants since 2014... and beyond.

Recently, Well + Good published and article featuring the latest trend of oversized sweatshirts... something I've been waiting on since 1995. Those were the days when you could listen to alt. rock or rap music and wear clothes that were equally baggy... just differently branded. And, within the article, I saw my dreams come to life (and then dashed) as I laid eyes on a Margiela sweatshirt. Baggy clothes are my happy place. I'm usually unfussy about my surroundings but clothes that surround your body in a tight fashion are literally too close for comfort. However, as I imagine making forays into unwaxed territory, I'm stocking up on reinforcements... "manely" baggy clothes that can get me through both yoga and work. I've also thrown in some leggings for good measure. Below are a few of my top picks. Enjoy!

Nike Temo Mesh-Panelled DRI-FIT Shell Shorts: While I dream about a day I don't have to shave, I've often encountered days where I haven't waxed. And while boy shorts are great for keeping one cool in the hot-room, the shorts above offer a cool fabric cut in a manner to provide better coverage for those days between the days.

The Upside: Printed Stretch Jersey Leggings: I'm usually not a huge fan of leggings but a cute pattern can sometimes push me over the edge. Known for their stylish yoga and swim apparel, The Upside delivers with a calming, sky-like pattern as well as full-length pant legs for those days (or weeks) when you have skipped shaving.

No Ka'Oi Kana Waffle Knit-Stretch Jersey Track Pants: Dreaming of days I don't have to shave is not enough. I also dream of days in sweatpants as well. Obviously, I'm a bit of a bum. But No Ka'Oi's pants make such a day seem accessible... and stylish. Plus, dropping a lot of money on them means you can wear them to work, right? Of course!

Oversized clothing is literally making headlines... or, at least, subject lines.

So there you have it, some shorts and pants to carry you through the days where we don't care to shave, wax, whatever. And, when all's said and done, the Nike Gym-Vintage Organic Cotton Track-Pants and the ASOS hoodie will probably find their way into my closet over the more pricey options above. Still, it's all not too shabby.




Saturday, October 8, 2016

Health Before Beauty

Awhile back, I purchased a book by Slim Aarons which showed the rich and beautiful at play. It was a little odd. To some extent I felt I was looking at dolls arranged in a setting as opposed to glances of real-life in play. But one photo that made me particularly curious was of a woman in Italy who owned a health spa. What made me particularly curious about this photo, I suppose, was that health seemed to be indicative of the Italian lifestyle and that beauty was something one attended the spa for. Indeed, spas, or mineral springs were originally places indicative of health. However, today, you can get your haircut at a spa, get your nails done at a spa and have a happy ending to your day at the spa. Just kidding. But, as spa services stretch to provide more services to wealthy clients (or those who can afford $60 haircuts) the spa had become less of a hot spring and more of a hot spot for needless pampering.

We all need a little pampering but not all of us need rose petals as it plays out. Indeed, many advertisements for massages include a woman relaxed in a glossy filter surrounded by rose petals. What this woman doesn't know (or doesn't care about) is that said massage is going to cost her a pretty penny. Indeed when I usually book us massages once a year on vacation, my finance never fails to get a bit antsy at the register after seeing the final tally of services rendered. 

When I was in eleventh-grade, my history teacher told us that out Puritan roots run culturally deep, thanks to our European founders. In a way, he was right. When I worked part-time at Le Pain Quotidien, its ranks of international servers complained that there was no way they could get a decent massage in the city. One woman from Ethiopia claimed that in Addis Ababa, she could get a quick massage at the local spa, sit in the hot tub and get re-energized, all for the American equivalent of around 15 bucks. However, in America, there seems to be some guilt about feeling good. And when we do feel good, it's a big event. We schedule spa days replete with cucumber water and soft, trance-like music and we literally "pay for our sins." Unlike the quick and inexpensive massage experienced by my coworker, hour massages at a spa run around $120. A simple wax will set you back $35 and, as stated before, a haircut or trim can run up to $60... all before a tip is included. But massages and a few other services are not always the indulgent experiences we make them out to be. Indeed, as one of the million Americans who works out (another form of prostration not quite as extreme in other countries) I find it essential to have my muscles worked out every now and then. And, unfortunately, high prices can deter those who need the services most (read, the lady who cleans the mall bathrooms). So, as to assuage our collective guilt, I've tried to tease out some essential spa services which can help our bodies recover or deliver a unique sensory experience and those which are based more around beauty. As with all posts, you can disregard the information of you'd like... Enjoy!

Doing a little writing research...

Health

Manicures: When I was young, manicures seemed like the ultimate (accessible) indulgence. In the 90's, when I was around 13 and likely the youngest kid in my class to have their eyebrows (and face) waxed, one generally had to go to the spa over the mall kiosk to get such things accomplished. So sometimes my mother (who was generally generous about such things) would let me get a manicure to both literally and figuratively take the sting out of the situation above. And, in general, I was surprised by how inexpensive they were compared to the other services on the menu. Indeed, there has been some controversy as of late regarding the health of nail "accoutrements" such as gel nails, paraffin waxes and polish. But a good, old-fashioned manicure sans any of the above ingredients is a great way to have some over-worked ligaments worked out and can even help circulation in the area when we get them buffed (see In the Buff). So, every now and then, I treat myself to a "dry manicure", without polish. And, if you live in the DC area, my new favorite spot is Coatroom in Ballston.

Pedicures: When I grew a bit older, the same salon I went to for a wax became the salon I would go to for a massage. They say adolescents are self-centered pricks and as such, I had no problem spending my parents' money on something I didn't need. However, during one session, I noticed my feet really start to relax as they were getting worked out by the masseuse. 

"Wow," I exclaimed, "that feels pretty good." 

"Well," he explained, "everything starts with our feet. It's where we spend most of our time."

As I've grown older and indeed spend more and more time on my feet, I can tell when they're begging for a pedicure. I generally wait a few weeks after they start aching since I no longer have my parents' cash on hand but, every six weeks or so, I march my tired toes into the salon for a pedicure... again, with no polish.

Massage: While some massages can be indulgent (who fucking needs a seaweed-wrap?) I've found that some can be practical. As I've grown older, my beauty (or health) routines have moved from the plush settings of salons and into mall kiosks where things are generally more efficient and less expensive. And just as my international "compatriots" at Le Pain experienced more low key and practical services abroad, I've found a small kiosk where massages based on Chinese medicine run from 15 minutes to an hour and cost about a dollar a minute. C'est magnifique!

Beauty

There are a lot of services based solely around beauty (or our conception of it). Beyond getting our muscles worked out, whether they be on our hands, feet or back (see above) there's a lot of work done on an aspect of our body that are already dead... our hair. 

Haircuts: I've begun the "beauty" section with haircuts because, in general, haircuts are semi-essential. At some point, our tresses gets stressed and broken and fall out at a faster rate if we don't keep them a bit neat. But, beyond that, getting them colored with harsh chemicals, straightened (either chemically or by a straightener) or styled is something that falls squarely in the beauty category. Not that it's bad... just that it's costly and in the end, somewhat unnecessary to our routines. There is one exception I've found in blow drying, however. Several years ago, I struggled a bit with dandruff. At one point, my stylist asked, "do you wash your hair and then get into bed?" Indeed, having showered at night for as long as I can remember, I often washed my hair at the end of the day and hopped into bed. As such, having my scalp up against a head of wet hair for an entire evening led to oiliness, flakiness and a general grossness that could have been avoided with a little drying. And while I've lamented the high prices of spa services above, I have my eye on a T3 dryer for the holidays.

Waxing: When I was in college I wrote my senior thesis on the topic of female circumcision. Practiced mainly in East Africa, the tradition essentially helps women conform to a standard of beauty which, in the end, helps her secure a husband. During my presentation, a lot of faces showed discomfort and people squirmed in their seats (even though I didn't go into much detail). But, though not as extreme, waxing and shaving are small conformations to a standard of beauty that most people (myself included) might cringe at if not maintained. However, I've been thinking about it more and more. 

Recently, I've been having some trouble with my skin and have, at times, seriously considered dropping a lot of cash to have my hair follicles zapped with a laser so as to stop any growth and thereby eliminate one irritant from the derrrrrmis. And, yet, on the opposite end of the scale, I've also realized that simply letting it grow would probably produce the same result as longer hair can often be softer (I think). To some extent, age is really inversely proportional to caring what others think and so the thought of not shaving, not waxing my eyebrows, etc. has become more appealing as I've grown older... although the idea has coincided with a search for several long skirts. However, at the end of the day, beauty involves remaining true to yourself. It's not something you'll find in the spa but in your life. So do as you'd like... and stay healthy. 😉


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Poaching Good Recipes

In Eating Is Extreme I spoke about all the foods and methods of cooking them that can kill you. And, of course, as stated in the post, I began to get depressed by my own ramblings. As a foodie who's more interested in health than being a douchebag, I follow Dr. Josh Axe on Facebook, Instagram and generally wherever I see his name. Delivering alternatives to harsh products as well as information on different health ailments, I learned from him that I've likely developed something he terms "Candida Gut" from my many years of eating cupcakes and nothing of real sustenance. As such, Axe states that people who experience the condition often suffer from "damp insides" which can be remedied by foods which are warm and high in nutrients. To some extent I was able to (correctly or incorrectly) diagnose myself with the condition based on the fact that I'm always cold and love soup (as well as a few other symptoms which seem much more prevalent such as anxiety). So, it would make sense that my body craves warm foods to balance the coldness within (ha). And the creation of soups does provide a way to cook foods which is a bit gentler (and healthier) than a searing pan or grill: poaching.

Visuals help.

According to Campbell's (soup) Kitchen, poaching is a cooking method whereby one, "simmer[s] food in hot liquid until... cooked." The same source also states that it is a "gentle" cooking procedure which is also classified as a "moist-heat cooking method." Yummy. So, whereas I was at a loss for foods that were cooked but unexposed to the Maillard-Reaction (see Eating Is Extreme) I was happy to see poaching as a method that could be both healthy and beneficial.

I recently was reintroduced to the poaching method from an ancient Cooking Light periodical stashed in the back of my local nail salon. Gaining my attention with a recipe for lobster, I noticed the chef at Dudley's Refresher in Maine used the poaching method to cook the crustacean. Specifically, she poached the lobster in butter which made me melt like... butta.

And, just like the chef above, one need not solely poach their item in water. Chicken stock (soon to be the topic of a forthcoming article), tomato sauce or even wine can all serve as liquids which can both poach or gently heat an item while simultaneously imparting flavor. Thus below, I've included a few recipes which use the poaching method as opposed to the roasting method for a healthier outcome. Enjoy!

Poached Eggs: Start with the basics, as they say. When I first came down to Washington with my family when I was fourteen, I noticed an option for poached eggs on the menu. "What are poached eggs?" I asked my mother who, being of Irish and Polish descent, cooked eggs two ways: hard boiled when she planned ahead and soft boiled when she was running short on time. But somehow, poached eggs seemed like an invitation to fine dining... where not everything was boiled as fuck.

I think I've heard that classically trained chefs begin by learning to cook eggs. With less danger of disease which can appear in uncooked meat as well as lower costs than prime cut meats, eggs (I suppose) are a great way to learn the basics of cooking; and the same goes here. Learning to poach eggs (as I'm still doing) provides one with the opportunity to play with the temperature of your poaching liquid and arrive at a level of firmness you prefer in your meat- very important to know. So, using the recipe (or link) above, poach some eggs for yourself or a friend... they'll think they're experiencing fine dining ;)

Poached Fish: Since poaching is a gentle method of cooking where heats don't become comparatively high, it's usually used to warm delicate meats... which are generally healthier than the tougher ones anyways. So the cooking method's really a win-win in terms of health. Here, I've included Emeril Lagasse's recipe for poached salmon to show the method's ease of use and because it was the first one that showed up on my google search. Anyways, while the stock initially heats to a high temperature, Lagasse informs readers to turn the temperature down so that it's only simmering when they add the salmon steaks. And while poaching meats is healthy, it often takes some vigilance while it cooks in order to ensure a correct level of "doneness." However, since poaching often involves more delicate meats, cooking times are often quick quick.

Poached Vegetables: While you likely couldn't tell from the post which led to this one (Eating Is Extreme) I really don't like being prosletory about food... telling people to eat (or not eat) one way or the other. In general, I like to inform and let people make their choices from there (not that anyone listens to me). However, I hate to say that the more I read about meat and its effects on our environment and health through consumption, the more unappetizing it becomes. Vegetables, on the other hand, are items which become more intriguing with more knowledge. Loaded with nutrients and lending themselves to a variety of cooking styles, vegetables can be a more indulgent item to poach.

When you're young, your mother (or father) tells you to, "eat your vegetables so you can have dessert." When you're older, you tell yourself to eat your vegetables so you can poach them in something sweet. By sweet, I mean luxurious. It's true that eating vegetables leaves space for richer dips or a dessert which follows. Having consumed multiple nutrients alongside relatively few calories, veggies can ease the guilt of poaching something in a decadent broth. It's not so much about the strain rich meats and dips can place on our waistlines it's more about the strain it can place on our hearts. So, in honor of balance I've included a recipe (above) for poached vegetables served alongside a caper mayonnaise. Magnifico!

Soy Steamed Chicken: Last year, herbal steams were all the rage. Amy Sedaris was using it and Into The Gloss was writing about it. Indeed, it seemed to be on the radar of every girl with perfect skin. So, as you can imagine, I abstained from the trend. Not to downgrade its effectiveness, I just knew my skin troubles were more than skin-deep and a little steam wasn't going to fix a larger problem. But steam is helpful in opening pores which can lead to a loosing of dirt and oils within their place of residence. And the same can go for food. When we steam something, we're not only cooking it in a way which makes it more tender we're also cooking in a manner that maintains its nutrients.

Although steaming is different than poaching, they both qualify as a "moist-heating method" under Campbell's classifications. And, while I sang the high praises of vegetables in lieu of less healthy meats, I saved the healthier cooking method for the less healthy dish. Marinated in soy sauce and shit, the chicken in the recipe is then steamed atop a bed of cabbage leaves. Make poached eggs for breakfast and this dish for dinner and your friends will claim you a chef extraordinaire. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Poetry

They stood on opposite ends of the corner

One headed to the club, One headed to the restaurant 

But that's where their lives would have brought them anyways.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Letting Go

Fall represents a change in pace. Children go back to school and, historically, food gets ready for harvest. Indeed, in the Jewish calendar the New Year is celebrated with both sweetness on Rosh
Hashanah and solemnity on Yom Kippur. In general, Fall is a pivotal time of letting go. We let go of easy days in lieu of a more hectic pace just as the trees lest go of their leaves. And, for myself, I've learned more about the art of letting go in the months leading up to Fall through yoga.

In Just Do It, I referenced difficult emotions which can arise when we let our muscles relax. It's a little like opening a closet which you formerly packed in a hasty manner... when objects tumble out, it can be a shock but it's better to face the clutter so that we can feel peace in organization rather than ignore a closet which can otherwise serve as an important form of storage. It's a little similar with our emotions. As Freud once stated, "life is hard." And the decisions we don't wish make or the events we don't know how to handle can sometimes be shelved in the mind's closet or unconscious where it's out of conscious sight but never really out of mind. 

As Freud said, "life is hard."

I remember once reading in the New York Times that, from an anthropological perspective, when societies become more stratified economically, the inequality between men and women goes up. Indeed, the article looked at wives in Upper East Side addresses whose husbands possess comparative wealth but not much room in the lives of their families. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and the article took a clearly academic as opposed to judgmental stance (you can read it here). Yet one other characteristic of this strange community seems to be its ubiquitous presence of social norms. People of a particular socioeconomic status may attend charm school. There are a million utensils to use and you have to know how to use them. And as this current election cycle has taught us, what you talk about and how you talk about it (i.e. political correctness) differs with one's education and station. The point is, a lot has changed since the time of hunting and gathering when we as a species tended to work less and enjoy greater equality among the sexes. Yet, while we may no longer feel the threat of facing a lion in the hunt, life still presents its stresses no matter how technologically advanced we become. And so though we've changed our surroundings, our stress response has remained the same. 

Stress comes to us in many forms. Although we no longer face the pressures of the hunt, we often face the pressures of traffic. While hunter-gatherer societies were often close knit and provided resources for the entire tribe, we are now faced with more independent economic arrangements which are sometimes stretched and as unpredictable as the environmental droughts faced by our ancestors. And even though we've developed a host of social norms and rules to accompany our ever emerging technologies, our fear of falling "out of the tribe" is just as strong as it was when we actually lived in one. Indeed, we define strength in numbers as, "the hypothesis that, by being part of a large physical group... an individual is less likely to be the victim of a mishap, accident, attack or other bad event." So, we have more rules to abide yet the same fear of breaking them as well as general stresses which may not be life-threatening but activate our bodies in a way which can still be detrimental to our health.

When we come up against a stressful situation, be it an impulse from our unconscious or the unexpected sound of a siren, the body often initiates a fight-or-flight response. According to Harvard Health Publications, when the sympathetic nervous system activates this process, the heart rate goes up, the muscles tense and a cacophony of hormones are released preparing us for battle. However, when this response is repeatedly activated, as it often is in today, it can wreak havoc on our systems.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is a scene which always makes me feel uncomfortable in which Johnny Depp (playing Walter S. Thompson) consumes pure adrenaline and goes on a crazy trip. I'm not sure if there's any truth to the scene but adrenaline (or epinephrine) which is released during the fight-or-flight process helps us run from a lion but can really mess with us if released consistently. Indeed, the effects of prolonged stress, according to Harvard Health Publications includes an increase in blood pressure, issues with obesity, brain damage which can cause anxiety and a whole host of other issues. So what can we do to help ourselves when faced with the perils of modern stress? The answer may be surprisingly simple.

When I was in college, I had a roommate whose parents collected modern art. So she never really wanted to go to a museum. "I grew up around art," she would say. "I really don't want to go out and look at it." And while I remember confusing conversations about "artists" who spent all day sending shocks through sheet metal, I had a difficult time understanding why she couldn't appreciate the art as much as people who didn't grow up around it. However, while Eastern Religion and meditation has seemed to have swept the nation as of late, I really hold off on trying it because... I've grown up with it.

While I've had to sit through many conversations on meditation, boring as it sounds, there's a group of people who inspire me to try it - vets returning from home from war. The battle field is one of the places left in modern society where fight-or-flight scenarios may emerge on a regular basis. Being exposed to unspeakable horrors, many vets return with confusion (for lack of a better term) as to how and acclimate back into "normal" life. After returning from WWII, my grandfather could not watch the fireworks on the Forth of July because the loud noises brought back painful memories. When woken from a bad dream by my grandmother, she said his first response would be to reach under his pillow where he kept his gun while he slept on active duty. Of course, nothing was there in the states. For most of us inexperienced in battle it's difficult to imagine what it might be like. But that doesn't mean we can't help where needed. And one person attempting such an endeavor is psychologist Emma Seppala. 

Breathing Happiness

So, as you can see from the video above, the simple act of watching one's breath can have profound implications for our health. Indeed, according to WebMD, several benefits of daily meditation include a reduction in stress and/or an improvement of psoriasis to name a few. And, while meditation fundamentally is a simple process, I'm certainly not schooled to teach anyone its key steps. So, in my first attempt to learn about the process, I picked up a book by Jon Kabat Zinn entitled, Wherever You Go There You Are. Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Kabat Zinn is also the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and the Stress Reduction Clinic as well as the author of various tomes. Below, he shares steps for beginning the process of meditation. Enjoy!


Jon Kabat Zinn, ya'll.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Eating is Extreme

The title above is a bit of a misnomer. The act of eating is not actually extreme but the attempt to eat healthy seems to be an exercise in extremity these days. In Sunshine and Structure, I referenced the article, Excuse Me While I Lather my Child in this Toxic Death Cream, written by a tired mother fed up with proclamations of toxicity against everyday goods. But, in my opinion, the reality is that we're surrounded by convenient foods and products that do pose potential health risks down the road. I never really wanted to say this on my blog but I do believe we live in a toxic food environment.

D.C. represent...

Growing up, I remember a sort of infomercial which claimed, "with new information coming out everyday about food, it's hard to know what's healthy." Being raised in a family that put a premium on health, I was lucky enough to know that, yes there are trends but, in general, a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and meats was pretty much the standard bearer of a good diet. And this is essentially true. It might not make you look like Gisele (which leads to an alternate issue in our food-culture) but it likely keeps you healthy barring any unforeseen circumstances. However, even with a balanced diet, there are certain limitations and sacrifices we generally make to be truly healthy. There are also alternative avenues proselytized by the media which sound nice (or like a quick fix) but really lead nowhere. So, in an effort to clear things up, I've drawn up my own plan for health as far as I know - so, you can totally disregard it if you wish. I start with foods that I've found can be completely eliminated from the diet and then get narrower. Along the way, I've tried to point out food trends which are relatively bullshit so as not to make eating so elitist and unappetizing. Like political correctness, it's good when eating works for everyone and doesn't seem too overwhelming. So, below are my (amateur) findings. Enjoy!


Processed Foods
In Candid-dida, I spoke about cutting processed foods from my diet for about a week. In short, the experience was truly eye opening. All of a sudden, my body had the nutrients it needed to get by. My sugar cravings went down as did my anxiety and constant need to go to yoga. Instead of my body shunning food it knew was not good for it, my appetite increased as did my good mood. It wasn't always easy but the results were worth it. 

Of course, with processed foods, there's often the question of price (and access). Food deserts or areas without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables tend to exist in urban areas with lower socioeconomic means. While I believe I've heard the argument that processed foods provide a high amount of calories per dollar the movie Fed Up has told us that not all calories are created equal. And processed foods do possess elements our bodies don't necessarily need. While a lemon simply provides the goodness of a lemon, lemon juice (at least of the Sicilia brand) can contain lemon juice, lemon oil and sulpher dioxide (a preservative). And it is these preservatives which can contribute to adverse efffects on our health including issues with asthma, hyperactivity and heart damage (accoring to Livestrong.com). Furthermore, since processed foods are not exactly concentrated in nutrients (it'd be unprofitble to be so), one often eats more to gain a sense of satiety.

Meats
In Candid-dida, I also talked about eating meat and that it became a necessity when I relied more on whole foods. As they say, variety is the spice of life and as you feed your body more natural items, the more it seems to crave a new diversity of foods and nutrients. So while I was raised in a family with a high percentage of vegetarians, I know I need meat. However, meat eating seems to be where we get on the tight-rope wire and become extra careful of our habits. While (I think) one should be free to eliminate processed foods entirely according to circumstance, there have been some trends in the meat industry which can make our heads spin.

Type
Going along with processed foods, processed meats are reported by the World Health Organization to, "increase the risk of cancer," according to the BBC. So this seems to be the first extremity in eating. For you goyim, bacon and sausage are part of the culinary landscape and for school children everywhere, so are lunch meats. However, there are luckily other delicious meats to eat. According to the WHO, however, the next step is to be cognizant of...

Size
When it comes to meat, size matters (hehe). Scientifically speaking, both adult males and females are advised to consume about 6 oz. of meat on the daily (according to the American Heart Association). This, to me, is the second area where eating can become extreme. While 6 oz. of meat generally equals the size of two card decks, restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Arby's and Chili's pride themselves on their large portions for less. In order to reduce this amount, however, the above Association advises building meals around vegetables...

Fruits/Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are delicious (I think). Vegetables provide a whopping percentage of nutrients and fruits can satisfy our sweet teeth and make bland dishes more palatable. In one serving of broccoli alone, one can finagle 220% of his or her vitamin C intake. One potato (the unhealthy stepchild of vegetables) possesses B6 to help our hormones and potassium for our muscles. But, within this category, there are concerns as to how such plants are grown and where they are distributed.

Local
As stated in Eating Locally, Religiously, I was at first confounded by the locavore movement (from a dietary perspective). Of course, locavores like Gwyneth Paltrow seemed to love eating food grown within a 60 mile radius for environmental reasons but we don't all have access to the undisturbed farms of East Hampton. Plus, researchers have shown that eating locally doesn't have a large impact on environmental healing. I do wonder at times however, if it can have an economic one.

As I get older, I like to think more and more about where my dollar is going (probably because I have so few of them). It's not about eschewing Capitalism, it's about using my power as a consumer within the system. Like I said in Techo-Traps, I'm a bit old fashioned and, I guess I enjoy Adam Smith's idea of capitalism where a vendor feels a sense of obligation to a consumer partially because he or she has to "look you in the eye." These days, such an arrangement is hard to find (I know the worker at Chipotle doesn't give a fuck if I like my sandwich) but, at the farmer's market a farmer tends to stand behind the product they've worked to nurture and often develop relationships with the yuppie patrons who like to stop by. For me, eating locally is great but it's also important for me to spend locally. Plus, the idea of eating locally can sometimes give one more to think about in an already complicated process of eating health.

Organic
If I was originally confused by the locavore movement, I was a little miffed by the organic one. Eating fruits and vegetables in a sea of more tempting but less healthy options is an achievement in itself. And yes, the presence of pesticides can be harmful but, as I see it, it is just one factor of the farming model. 

When scouring the Internet for seeds several years ago, I came across the fact that farmers often prize soil as their main "crop" from which all other crops derive. Maintaining healthy soil will generally give way to healthy plants the way quality ingredients will give way to a quality dish. To some extent, a small farmer, will be able to tend more to the soil of his or her land than the expansive landscapes of the agribusiness industry. Also, both the small farmer and agribusiness alike must shell out copious amounts for the organic label, causing some to farm organically while giving an FU to the government. So, at the end of the day, pat yourself on the back for eating fruits or vegetables, organically or inorganically.

But while fruits and vegetables are healthy, they're not always tasty on their own (there's a reason kids have to be incentivized to eat their broccoli). And this is where items such as oils, vinegars and other condiments come in although, sometimes, at the expense of our health.

Oils 
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids which can help lower one's risk of heart disease (according to The Mayo Clinic). Oils, however are processed and not all are created equal. Recently, some speculation has arisen surrounding vegetable oil. After analyzing the substance again, researchers found that vegetable oil, specifically, could lead to rather than detract from heart disease (according to Time). Furthermore, while olive oil has been shown to provide a myriad of benefits, it has also be shown that not all olive oils are what they seem. 

Vinegars 
Vinegars are great, but like oils, they are processed. This is not necessarily a bad thing but they are also sold for around 3.99 (a gallon). This often makes me wonder what's in them and how they're made. A book I'm looking to buy is Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila Latourrette's Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. While poking around Amazon for the tome, however, I stumbled upon a New York Times article covering how he made vinegar. Stationed in his kitchen at the Ressurection Monastery in Millbrook, New York, Brother Avila detailed how he began the vinegar making process by boiling a pot of wine. At $3.99, however, I'm skeptical most food companies use the brother's process (or base of wine). And even if they did, wine has its own issues as well.

booooo

Wine
Every few weeks, my father sends me an email detailing the latest food recall. I kind of can't stand them but I always ensure I reply politely. In one email, however, it detailed that trace but worrisome amounts of arsenic were found in many popular wines. To go back to my point in the introduction, we often pay a price for mass produced products... just not at the register.

Salt
When I began to "eat natty", I began to rely more on salt for flavoring. Taking well to anything from meat to vegetables, salt is a natural alternative to heavy dressings or dips. The issue, however, is that our bodies don't need much of it. 

Don't get me wrong, our bodies need salt, just about 1 teaspoon per day, according to the FDA. Beyond that, issues with blood pressure can occur. So, while foods are great salted, if we stick to recommended guidelines, they just won't taste that great. 

Cooking Methods
In the Spring, Shape and a bunch of other publications reported that the healthiest method of cooking food was... steaming. Unfortunately, such publications were followed by summer - the season of grilling. But exposing foods to high temperatures can be detrimental to both the foods and ourselves.

According to Eating Well, "[t]here's no evidence that grilling causes cancer. But cooking meat at the high temperatures you use to grill... causes heterocyclic amines [HCAs] and polycyclic amines [PCAs], compounds linked with some cancers." When we don't reach for salts or oils to season our foods, heat can be the next best thing to bring out flavor. High fluctuations in temperatures however, are just as problematic for foods as they are for other materials. I remember watching a video in which Jamie Oliver claimed the best way of searing meat on the stove was to first let one's pan reach a really high temerapture, and then allowing the meat to form a caramelized "crust" while its internal flavor remained "locked in". While, Oliver did instruct the viewer to not cook cold meat over high heat, it was said more for the sake of textural over health-related reasons.

"Lots of salt and lots of pepper," according to Mr. Oliver.

When meat browns, it undergoes a process called the Maillard Reaction, which is responsible for providing many browned or "toasted" foods such as breads with a, "favorable flavor," according to Wikipedia. The issue, according to the same source, is that when temperatures climb too high, "a potential carcinogen called acrylamide can be formed." (The same process can be indirectly used to create artificial flavors). Acrylamide is found in many things, not just food. Paper towels and food packaging are just a few of the goods which possess the substance. Accoring to the National Cancer Institue, however, while, "the [FDA] regulates the amount of residual acrylamide in a variety of materials that come in contact with food... there are currently no guidelines governing the presence of acrylamide in food itself." And, at this point, I'm starting to get depressed by my own blog post.

Superfoods
Despair not, young'uns, there are superfoods that can save the day! Only, in my opinion, many superfoods in stores today are stupid. As stated earlier, while I certainly had my confusions as a youngster, I was generally aware of what was healthy and what was not (usually it was the things I was eating). With two parents who preached the value of common-sensical health, I never once heard the words "ashitaba", "astragalus" or "cordyceps". Perhaps they weren't of the hippie-variety or perhaps they didn't want to drop $50 on a single food item but they always maintained that relying on natural foods was the way to go.

Last Spring, I actually wrote about superfoods in a post (Compararive Curiosities), noting their reported benefits. As I see it now, an emphasis on superfoods is a little like the organic movement with women in Lululemon pants touting the benefits of Eucommia bark (which retails at around $55 a pop). I'm not saying such products don't maintain their reported benefits, it's just that I wonder if they provide a way of consuming nutrients sans calories. Additionally, many benefits and nutrients we can obtain just fine from whole foods (the product, not the store). Spending a fortune on specialized goods is fine if you can afford it but should not stand in as a substitute for good habits. Again, if we pay collectively for health care as a society, we should make healthy eating available to everyone, not just the elite.  So, this is where we return to balance. Simply eating when we're hungry, foods that are naturally and nutritious, help our bodies and minds (and maybe the economy). As I referenced in Techno-Traps we often become our parents and, I've found their endless preaching to be true: that we don't need fancy remedies or unique trends to be healthy, we (conversely) need what's simple... just what the Earth and farms give to us. As Occam's razor tells us, "the simplest solution is often the right one."

So there you have it... a long winded way of saying that yes, there are many temptations out there and ways to eat unhealthy are both tasty and convenient but can generally harm us in the long run, both as individuals and as a collective society. So where does all thing information leave us? The truth is often found in the middle and, to no surprise, the foods featured in the middle of the article are the ones that seem best for us. One not need rely too much on processed food for survival but can eat meat and produced not dressed too heavily in sauces and condiments. And one eventually notices the complexity of natural foods that have a depth well beyond the immediate hit of a sugar-laced item. And there are food trends that come and go, but at the end of the day, I've found our own bodies have way more knowledge than the evening news and can, on its own, inform us what's right and what is not. Trust Thyself and treat yourself well.