26 January 2011

At-Home Remedies For a Case of the "Sicklies"

This past weekend I visited my mother. We had a wonderful time exchanging cooking magazines, tips, and recipes. We cooked and she even helped me complete my first homemade skirt (up on the blog real soon). Yes, we shared many a thing this past weekend, including germs. 

On Monday morning I got the call that my mom was at home sick, diagnosed with the influenza virus. *cue horror movie scream* By no coincidence at all I had woken up that same morning with a sore throat and headache. Since then I have spent 100% of my time thinking healthy thoughts, eating healthy things, sipping on herbal teas and singing fight songs to encourage my immune system. So far so good. By this time I should be at home writhing on the floor, delusional from my fever. Yet here I am, facing the day with nothing but a sore throat.

I credit my quick recovery with a few things: homemade soup, a happy movie, Throat Coat, a neti pot, and a husband that does everything for you when you are sick (a definite bonus!).

Last night I made the most delicious soup. I got it off the Whole Foods website which, in case you haven't heard, has some awesome good-for-you recipes on it. The soup was Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup and it whipped up in no time at all! The curry felt great on my throat and made me feel all warm inside.

Away We Go is my happy movie. For starters, John Krasinski cracks me up. The only thing that cracks me up more than John Krasinski is John Krasinski learning how to parent. As with most all Focus Features films this movie did an excellent job developing the characters. So much so that you even cry happy tears. Laughing and crying...both good medicine.

Oh man. This stuff works miracles. As a matter of fact, my throat needs a miracle right now so excuse me while I step away to brew some...

Ok. So I learned about Organic Throat Coat while working at my previous job. It was December and it was cold. Everyone in the office was sick so someone brought in a box to help everyone get through the day. I decided that next time I got sick with a sore throat I'd give it a shot and sure enough, the stuff works better than cough medicine (and tastes better too)! It is made with licorice root, slippery elm bark and marshmallow root to name a few. All work together to sooth and naturally numb your throat. Are you feeling under the weather? If so, pick up a box at your local grocery store or buy it online here.

Dwight Schrute giving a neti pot demonstration... incorrect in form, however.
The neti pot has been used for centuries as a form of ayurvedic healing. It is the pot used in the practice of irrigating the nasal passages with saline. Although not very lady-like it will do wonders to relieve sinus pressure and allergies if you suffer from seasonal allergies, frequent sinus infections, or the common head cold. You can pick one up at your local drug store and start using it today. You can use it frequently as a preventative, or just to help get some relief when you start to feel sick.
Perhaps the most vital ingredient to my recovery is my beloved, John. Thank you for cleaning mountains of dishes, bringing me bowls of my favorite cereal and running out to THREE stores to get stuff for dinner and make me feel better!

24 January 2011

Cross-Cultural Etiquette: Preparing a Meal

When preparing to have international friends over to your home for a meal there are a few things to think of.  If you are unsure of their dietary restrictions it is completely fine to ask them in advance. Even though the following tips may give a general outline, there are always exceptions to the rule. I’ve met Muslims who, while living in America, have decided to eat pork. And I’ve met Hindus who eat meat.  I guess the biggest lesson is to never assume. :-/

If Your Guests Are….

As a general rule our Muslim friends will refrain from pork products and other meats that are not certified Halal. Also, alcohol is prohibited. When it comes to alcohol I always assume. Even if I’ve been offered alcohol while in their home, I will not offer it in mine out of respect for their faith.

A word on “halal.” I used to think that as long as a meal was pork-free it was halal. This is not so. Think of it as you would “kosher”. All kosher foods must be certified as such and in the same way halal foods must be certified. To be halal the animal must be blessed and killed according to that custom. Some Muslims will eat food as long as there is no pork and others will only eat meat that is halal. If your guest makes a point to tell you they only eat halal meat, run to your nearest international grocery or halal market for meat. In most cases meats that are certified kosher will also suffice if you live in a place without much diversity at the market.
 In Arab/Persian culture coffee and tea can play a big role for the night. If you have learned how to make a good Turkish coffee or yummy tea that can be a great end to a dinner. But keep in mind that little quirks can exist throughout Arab/Persian areas in regards to these beverages. In Jordan, for example, serving coffee can be a sign you want someone to leave. In Kazakhstan filling a tea glass to full may mean you want them to gulp it down and leave, whereas a half glass will let them know you want them to stay for refills. There’s no way to know all these things, and you shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing. But once you ask questions and learn these little things about other cultures it will allow you to be more hospitable in a way they will most fully understand.

Many Hindus and most all Buddhists are vegetarians, with some Hindus just avoiding beef. Although your family may be die hard meat lovers it would be my recommendation that while having Hindus or Buddhist vegetarians over for dinner you choose to go all out with your beans and veggies. Cooking meat for yourself may be disrespectful, and the smell may make your friends lose their appetite. Alcohol is also prohibited.

That covers the three most common religions and their restrictions. Most others have very little restriction, and if you are unsure just be sure to ask them.

Other things to consider….

1) Our Muslim friends fast one month out of the year during Ramadan. This means the will refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. This month may not be a good time to invite them over for dinner as they usually observe the breaking of the fast with family and fellow Muslims. However, if you do want to invite and they accept be sure to have them over after sunset and serve dinner soon after.

2) I’ve noticed that my friends from China have a very low tolerance to sweets. When thinking of desserts and beverages to offer be sure to choose something more mild.

3) Another thing to consider is what to cook for friends fresh off the plane. If your international friends have arrived in the US in the last week or two be very considerate of the fact that our typical American diet may be throwing them for loops. Try to lay off on the high dairy foods, high fat foods, and anything deep fried.

4) Make more than enough food.

5) Make more than enough food.
6) MAKE MORE THAN ENOUGH FOOD. In most other cultures having plenty for seconds and thirds is just good hospitality.

11 January 2011

Be Your Own Doctor: Nutrition

I don't know about you, but I've had it with American medicine. I somehow think we've all grown to miss the point of medicine and the preventative measures it is supposed to be taking. Our society focuses on symptom relief, relying heavily on prescription drugs, and fixing a specific problem instead of looking at the body as a whole.

In my effort to stay away from these institutions I've worked hard over the years to find alternative methods of treatment when I start to feel under the weather, as well as developing a healthy and preventative everyday lifestyle to combat the bugs we encounter in our daily lives. I'm no Ph.D. but I would like to share some "tips for living well" that work for me in this series. Up first: Nutrition.

1. Portion Control

Because we are a fast food nation and so many of us eat out frequently, our understanding of correct portions have been skewed. We eat to be "full" or "stuffed" instead of eating to be "comfortable" or "satisfied." If you are exhausted an hour after eating or your famished again it is probably a sign you are eating WAY to much of the WRONG thing.
2. Variety
It's true, variety is the spice of life. Eating well doesn't mean cutting out desserts or other foods you enjoy. In fact it shouldn't cut out any groups of food (unless "heavily processed foods" is a group...). If you are trying to not only make healthier eating habits but also trying to develop habits for losing weight there may be items to cut way back on, but cutting out all together is extreme. 
A healthy diet requires a lot of eating in order to get your needed fruits and veggies. I recommend 6 meals a day (3 moderate meals- breakfast, lunch and dinner) and 3 mini-meals (healthy mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evening snacks). Usually I save my "dessert indulgence" to eat as my evening snack. You get one a day, so make it at a time you will enjoy it most.
To ensure variety I usually try and see how many colors and textures I can eat a day. It sounds silly, I know, but when you start playing with this you really get a variety of grains, dairies, fruits, and veggies.
3. Make a Choice

Every time you grocery shop or eat you make a choice. When temped to put down a whole King Sized Milky Way I look at the label of ingredients and see that there is absolutely nothing that would benefit my body. If it does nothing, it is an easy choice- why even waste time chewing?  The hard part is educating yourself on what is beneficial and what is not. That sweet cereal you bought my say "A great source of fiber!" but if it is covered in sugar and floating amongst marshmallow puffs the point is moot. 
What I'm trying to say is that every individual is responsible for where their diet takes them. If it is taking you to a place you don't like, it's your own fault. No need to cry about it, just own it and commit to moving forward and making choices that will benefit your health. When your choices start to move you to a place you are happy with, that will also be your fault, and you can begin to pat yourself on the back for caring for the body you've got.

4. Log Your Intake

Food journal. This may sound silly and highly regulatory however, it can change your life! Let's look at our bodies as a whole and reason that everything that goes in it will effect it (the simple principle of "garbage in garbage out"). Unless we actively pay attention to the little changes in the way we feel throughout the day it will be difficult to trace what foods do what. Every body is different and every person reacts differently to different foods.

I keep a journal of everything I eat. 15-20 minutes later I will try and be aware of how I feel. Do I feel happy? Do I feel nervous? Do I feel out of breath or relaxed? Do I feel tired or awake? I also note the times of any physical reactions I may have. Do I feel bloated? Do I have a headache? Do I have an upset stomach or irregular heartbeats?  When I look back at my journal over time I start to see common threads between certain foods and negative or positive physical or emotional feelings. Chocolate or coffee (even in the littlest amounts) will give me a headache and cause my heart to skip. Mango and avacado are good at making me comfortably full and giving me energy that lasts. When I don't drink water I get out of breath and many meats bring down my mood.

If you track yourself for a few weeks to a month you will slowly begin to learn how your body responds and be able to eat a more well balanced diet that supports your physical needs and your emotional needs. 

What do YOU do to help maintain a healthy diet?