Saturday, April 16, 2016

Food is Family

In Trust Thyself, I wrote about finding balance and the fact I believe our bodies will inherently lead us to it, much like butterflies somehow find their way to Mexico each fall. To some extent, I've settled on this conclusion because I've seen my body hold objective preferences towards certain food groups (or families) when left to its own devices.

For a long time, I loved all foods (save for maybe zucchini and peanut butter). If it was edible, I often ate it. But, after suffering from a bout of "lost appetite" for a good three years (see Cheers to Ms. Fisher), I noticed my preferences begin to reshape and even mature.

When one suffers from a loss of appetite (for whatever reason), I believe the body craves pretty nutritious foods on the rare occasions it is hungry. If you subscribe the idea that the body intuitively knows what it wants, it makes sense it'd go for the most "bang for buck" when given the opportunity to eat. This, at least, was my experience. While the loss of an appetite was painful, I noticed my body begin to shun some foods and really crave others (no, I was not pregnant during this time). And like a person who finally grows into a certain style of dress or finds their unique voice in writing, I really found my epicurean preference to lie with "greens and beans"... as it were.

Greens and beans, ya'll.

For the past several years, we've heard the hype about dark greens. But while trends come and go (in any sphere) dark, leafy greens really are good for you. Loaded with vitamin A and sometimes K (or C), items like kale, cabbage and collard greens are packed with nutritional value. Combined with beans, your body is provided with an invaluable combination of minerals and protein. But... this is not everyone's preference and, indeed, there are other ways to attain a diet compete in health. However, knowing which groups we prefer to pick our nutrients from can save us some thought and thereby headaches. Indeed, foods belong to particular families within the plant and/or animal kingdom, some with more or less nutritional value. And while it's great to have a variety of foods on our plate, it's more important to have have those items which will give us the greatest benefits in the long run.

I bet you can pick out which foods are "related" (hint: they're the ones with "little tails" at the end).

When it comes to cooking, I have little tolerance for presentation. I know chefs say, "one eats first with their eyes," but this complementary component of eating has always driven me up the wall. Indeed, in many parts of the world, many people feel lucky simply to have food on their plates. So, unless you're really bored (as most rich people are), the food before us should be valued for what it can do for our bodies and not just for our sense of culture. To be sure, I'm currently at the (price) point in my life where I skimp on items in a recipe because, while they may add flavor, they don't add too much nutritional value. And, by leaving them out of my meal, I'm able to "add" to my bank account (or at least not subtract from it). So, at this point, my recipes are essentially distilled to contain foods I both like and are good for me. And, to some extent, I'm happy I'm not double dipping because although those stupid salad bowls look nice, they really can run up the tally in our wallets whether or not you produce them at home (no pun intended). So, without further ado, I figured I'd parse out some plant families in order to see which ones you prefer and/or if you're getting some real variety in your diet. Enjoy!

Lamiaceae: "Start small," they say. And, indeed, the Lamiaceae family is composed of small herbs including basil, mint, rosemary, sage, oregano, lavender and thyme... to name a few. And, with the exception of lavender for medicinal (read: mental) purposes, I know I'm not a large fan of this family's flavor. But, if you are, I suggest checking out the Greek shop, Daphnis and Chole.

Allium: In terms of flavor, the Allium family (or genus, to be specific about it) is really where it's at. While I might skimp on carrots or celery (both members of the parsley family) I can't skip adding my onions, garlic, leeks, shallots or chives as they add that hint of flavor (and bite) I can't resist.

Brassica: Brassicas is really my bread and butter. As stated before, leafy greens are my jam and there's something about kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and Brussels sprouts that make my mouth water. Whether it be kale kimchi, cauliflower rice or Brussels sprouts with bacon, these vegetables usually find their way into my diet on the daily.

Solanaceae: Kind of like members of the Lamiaceae family, I don't mind members of the Solanaceae (also known as Nightshade) family but I could do without them. And this is good because, in general, items like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers (both bell and hot varieties) and eggplants can add some cost to your meal without any real nutritional benefit. Indeed, Gisele Buchenden's personal chef says she excludes tomatoes and eggplants from the supermodel's diet. In general, the cost of tomatoes can be high, even in their summer season. And when you compare the price of two tomatoes (around $2 at the farmer's market) to a .99 bunch of kale, it makes you thankful that nutrition is not (always) expensive.

Cucurbitaceae: Gourds are gross. 'Cept for cucumbers. Maybe watermelons. 

Legume: According to Wikipedia, "a legume is simply a dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel... and usually [opens] on two sides. But peas, beans, peanuts, soybeans and even clovers differ from our conventional ideas regarding "fruit" (a definition which technically includes vegetables). And, to some extent, members of the legume family are different than most fruits. Legumes, provide us with a great source of protein. Indeed, I recall my father eating them on the daily in order to maintain his vegetarian habit. And, like members of the Brassica family, they're often cheap (if not salty) in canned form. So while kimchi and kale chips are a large part of my nutritional repertoire, I usually whip up a bowl of hummus to go with them.

To be sure, these are just several of the "families" which exist within the Plantae Kingdom. There are many others like the grass and parsley (or Apiaceae) family which I chose not to address in depth (mostly because I don't like them). However, it's important to note that many of these families (like many of the ones I grew up with in Rhode Island) are related. Of course, they're all plants. But, as taxonomy breaks down from kingdoms into phylums and eventually into families, there's an important point when the above families either fall into the unranked categories of Asterdids or Rosids. While tastes might seem to be objective and individual, there seems to be some scientific basis behind them. In general, the Lamicaeae, Apiaceae and Solanaceae fall under the auspices of Asterdids while the Brassica and Cucurbitaceae families fall under the category of Rosids. And when I think about my salads, I know I'd fall for one of cabbage and cucumbers over lettuce and tomatoes any day. As Socrates said... "know thyself."

Trust Thyself

In high school, I began writing down quotes that were relevant to my life. There were quotes about competition, about love (as you're always "in" when you're young) and about the ambiguity of human life. But, after having collected such things for quite some time, one particular quote stands strong in my mind: "know thyself" by Socrates. Although simple, this particular quote seems to incorporate profound wisdom as well as the applicability to a host of situations. But sometimes, to "know thyself" better, one must first "trust thyself".

The idea of trust has been on my mind for awhile as I have delved deeper into the world of yoga. Within Bikram yoga, one and a half half hours of general silence in a 104 degree room leaves you to some serious soul searching... most often trying to locate the reason you signed up for class in the first place. But as you practice more and more, your body ebbs and flows against its limits of strength and flexibility... allowing you to move deeper into some poses and learn new things in the process. Most recently, I've been learning about balance.

Balance was something I heard a lot about growing up. We were to find a balance between our playtime and school work (I rarely did) and often heard the axiom that, "life is a balance." And, as I grew older, I learned this was true. Indeed, today, we're exposed to messages about balance quite often, be they references to a "balanced diet", "work-life balance" or, in cooking, a "balance of flavors". But the balance attempted in yoga brings us back to the word's most tangible definition: the physical one.

Within the twenty-six poses of yoga, there are several poses or "asanas" that compose the "balancing series". In all three poses, one is expected to spend a relatively long amount of time on one leg and it has been through the above series that I have come to learn a bit more about my own balance and how it effects my body.

When I was in high-school,  I suffered from a few minor conditions mostly having to do with my running habit. There was a small bout of ITC Syndrome and a few other things that brought me to the athletic trainer's office where I was informed my feet had some high arches. As such, when I do yoga today, standing on one leg often leaves me leaning to one side or tensing my muscles, attempting of overcompensate for any inequities in the curvature of my feet. But, once I've gone deep enough into the pose, I feel an instant when it's okay to simply "let go" and relax into it, even if it means I'll slip a little or even if it means I'll fall. And when I do give in, like magic, my ligaments loosen and I'm able to move deeper into the pose than I ever thought possible. So, to use another quote from the Buddhist diaspora, "fall... and the net will catch you."

So what does all this have to do with eating? As stated above, in yoga, you learn a lot about your body: what it can do (on any given day) and what it can't. Indeed, yoga is said to inherently foster a mind-body connection. However, I've felt in my own life (at times), there's often a disconnect between the mind and body when it comes to eating. Food, in its greatest sense, (to use a quote from another Greek) "is medicine." It supplies us with energy and can be used to even heal ailments. And, to some extent, I believe, our bodies recognize that. And, if listened to, I believe our bodies will naturally point us in a direction that is healthy and thereby, helpful: to both ourselves and the environment... bringing us back to our center of balance... and such.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Copper Showstopper

I recently received the latest Williams Sonoma catalog, happy to look at objects which are beautiful but fiscally out of reach. To be sure, this particular catalog showcases copper goods... putting a spotlight on the holy grail of cooking materials. There are graceful copper pots by Mauviel and even a copper-laced edition of the Vitamix blender (which I'm almost tempted to trade in my current model for). But, copper is really for the elite... chefs or otherwise. That being said... the day following the arrival of my aforementioned catalog, I came across a French press with low-grade copper accents in celebration of the Golden Anniversary for Peet's Coffee... and couldn't resist.

I've been meaning to get a French press for awhile. As stated in The Daily Grind, I've always been a bit befuddled by coffee but heard you could throw lose-leaf tea into the above device. While I enjoy my little tea ball, I figured having an alternate method of making large quantities of tea (read: more than just a cup) would be beneficial. Plus, I remember seeing an entire shelf devoted to a neat line of French presses in Martha Stewart's kitchen and always was a little envious. So, while the copper on my French press did indeed turn out to be of terrible quality, I figured it'd still behoove to make teas worthy of my trendy little kitchen device. Plus, with spring upon us (once she breaks from her aggravating indecision), I figured it'd also be time to sweep in some refreshing blends with the new breeze and shelve the heavier teas of winter. So, without further ado: a list of fresh teas to go with my "fresh" purchase... Enjoy!

Happy Anniversary, Peet's Coffee. In celebration, I will overpay for sub-par goods. 

Lemongrass-Ginger Tea: I was originally going to feature a recipe for lemon-lemongrass tea here. With lemon being a citrus fruit and lemongrass being, an herb with a citrus flavor (according to Wikipedia), I figured the combination would produce a fine beverage. But as I searched the Internet for this combination, I came across lemongrass-ginger tea, a combination which seemed both intriguing and healthy.

As I delve deeper into the world of Thai cooking, I consistently see references to lemongrass and ginger in said category of recipes. Chili paste, peanut sauce and curries tend to incorporate one of these two ingredients. And, indeed, the nutritionist responsible for the recipe above seems to carry Malaysian heritage, whose cooking style is closely aligned with the Southeast Asian diaspora. In terms of health benefits (according to her site), lemongrass (whose nutrients are most densely packed in its white bulbs) carries vitamins A and C as well as magnesium, iron and calcium. It also acts as an anti-septic, detoxifying the gut of unneeded bacteria and purifying the blood (and skin) in the process. Ginger, as one most likely knows, is a heavy-hitter in the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant departments. It aids in digestion and with upset stomachs and is a great way to wake up in the morning with its spicy flavor. Furthermore, both lemongrass and ginger lend themselves well to the French press method of steeping. While each ingredient along is often to big for a tea ball and yet would still be an annoyance to have floating in your cup, a French press offers containment of your small slices while allowing their flavor and nutritional benefits to permeate the water.

Citrus slices: Piggybacking on the notion of citrus-flavored teas like the one above, infusing citrus slices in water is a surefire way to gain flavor, health benefits and the taste of spring in a few easy steps. While we're yet to fall into the lazy, hazy days of summer, the arrival of fresh fruit signals the beginning of warmer days. And what better way to use all of your fruit than to throw some peels in with your tea once you've consumed the flesh within. To do so, (according to the linked site above) simply place your peels (after washing them thoroughly - I suggest the Chef'n Veggie Brush for this task) in hot water, let steep for an hour and strain. Not only will the resulting liquid taste good (if not a little bitter) but it should add a boost of vitamin C to your morning routine as well.

Yoga Tea: A Capital Teas just opened up in my neighborhood and this is my new obsession. 

Friday, April 1, 2016


In Trying To Get A Handle On It, I talked about the creation of an Instagram account and how I intended to use it as a way for followers to access lesser-known but relevant personalities in the food and health world. However, as I began choosing who and what to follow, I realized that what I really became intrigued by were the posts and personalities of the art world.

@mimithor always has great photos.

I've loved pictures, ever since I was small. I remember being young, sitting on my father's lap and seeing a picture of a beach ball, unable to stop looking at its colors. For sure, most of us take in information visually, but most things in the art world, from painting to fashion design, have gripped me... not enough to make a career from but enough to have me get lost in the world of color for hours. It's not always high-brow. While I live in D.C., you won't always find me at the National Gallery of Art, rather, you'd be more likely to find me curled up with an issue of In Style. As when I was young, I still enjoy sitting, staring at colors... the blues robust enough to take a bite of. And this is probably why I enjoy Instagram.

Recently, a slew of post flew up on the above platform, asking followers to turn on their notifications. This was done in response to Instagram's new algorithm looking to put the posts one "likes" at the top of their feed rather than placing them in chronological order. And while this new structure has angered some, it brings to light the dynamic of "engagement" on social media. 

@sunpotion, also inspiring.

Building up to the release of Instagram's new algorithm, a few articles were published on how celebs use the platform interact with their followers. THB, the notion of an "Instagram celebrity" has always confounded me. I understand learning about a celebrity and choosing to follow them on Instgram (hello, I follow Rob Gronkowski) but having someone become famous via the platform (read: without really doing anything) makes me curious. Indeed, within the foodie world there are accounts like @feedmedearly whose "authors" work hard behind the scenes to prep and take beautiful photos, following Muhammad Ali's quote that, "the fight is won or lost far away from witnesses." But phenomenons like Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines) who is taking Instagram by storm via her abs is puzzling as there doesn't seem to be much of a product/information/whatever provided (while the Kardashians might not provide a direct product or talent, at least they allow us to realize our own lives aren't as vapid or hijacked by fame). But perhaps this is the point, that whether it's a beautiful photo of a wedding cake or a tight six-pack of abs, Instagram inspires us rather than engages us. While you can comment on a photo or ask questions (that may or may not be answered) Instagram seems to be a platform in which one can just sit back and watch. And, in some sense, this is not necessarily a passive activity. Inspiration allows us to stop and dream and then work harder on the reality we face. So, to some extent, this is my long winded way of saying that, while I may still follow some foodies on Instagram (the good ones) I plan on using the account more as a tool for finding beauty and putting some wind in my sails... an effect you will hopefully and eventually see within future posts.

My new "lonely tea" series on Instagram.