Category Archives: Healthy Living

Healthy living articles, healthy living tips, healthy living resources, and information on Intent.com

Better Than Before: How Diet Effects Mood with Elizabeth Somer

Elizabeth SomerQuite frankly, with the type of winter we have had so far in New York – and continuing to have, now into March – I sometimes think that only a trip to a Caribbean island will make me feel better! Thoughts of a swim in the warm ocean, lying around the sun-drenched white sand, and having one (or ten) of those drinks with the little umbrellas will undoubtedly do the trick. But obviously most of us can’t hop right on a plane to a tropical island. And, snow and cold aside, why aren’t we enjoying winter, anyway? Sledding, skiing, skating aren’t just for watching during the Olympics! And after all, being Better Than Before is all about living in the moment.

I took my query to Elizabeth Somer, author of the bestselling Eat Your Way to Happiness, and highly sought-after and respected source of nutritional information and lifestyle changes. I was hoping she could share some good news on how to keep in a good mood – not to mention not gain twenty pounds from all those hot chocolates with mini marshmallows – while we wait and wait…and wait, for spring.

JWM: Let’s start with the obvious basic question: Why does our mood often plummet during the winter?

ES: At its foundation, it’s biological. The seasonal drop in sunlight throws brain chemistry out of whack, making some of us more anxious, depressed, and tired this time of year. We snap at the kids, sleep more, crave sweets, and as a result, gain weight.

JWM: Can depression, mood swings, and chronic irritability be symptoms of more serious problems than just winter blues? Other than PMS or menopause, that is.

ES:. Yes, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The winter blues and SAD rest on the same continuum, differing only in their degree of severity. In other words, a person suffering from winter blues might feel grumpy and tired, while someone with SAD suffers serious depression, with feelings of desperation, anxiety, and exhaustion. If your depression interferes with important aspects of your life, such as your job or relationships, or if you have feelings of hopelessness, these are possible symptoms of SAD that should be discussed with a physician.

JWM: Who suffers from it? Other than we confirmed hypochondriacs, of course.

ES: Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Americans battle the winter blues. The reasons why our moods slip and our appetites take over by mid-winter could be simply that we’re cooped up, bored, and restless; or it could have a deeper cause, resulting from a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood and hunger. Whatever the reason, most people have some kind of behavior change in the winter. Children and teens can suffer from the winter blues, too.

JWM: What could be some of the signs?

ES: The main ones are obvious – depression and fatigue that lingers. Or, ask yourself the following: Has your mood plummeted along with the temperature? While you stare forlornly out the window at another bleak, winter day, is your spouse dozing rather than playing with the kids? Do you find yourself power snacking on Skittles by the 5th day of rainstorms. If so, you could be battling winter blues or SAD.

JWM: Are there foods and activities — other than Skittles– that you recommend that can boost our mood in these darkened days?

ES: Absolutely. First of all, you might consider finding more light. If your mood improves while vacationing down South, for example, it’s probably more the sunshine than the trip. [Or the drinks with umbrellas.] The researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, are among those who have linked dark winter skies to low levels of serotonin, which makes some people drowsy and more prone to depression. Ample sunshine hitting the retina of our eyes triggers a cascade of events in the brain that raises serotonin levels. Voila! Moods improve! Up to 80% of SAD and winter blues sufferers report at least some relief when exposed for 30 minutes to 1 1 /2 hours daily to sunlight or a specialized light box that emits light 5- to 20-times brighter than typical indoor light. Check out the internet for a local resource for these lights.

JWM: How about diet? Any suggestions?

ES: Eat Regularly: Don’t attempt to skip breakfast in an effort to cut calories. You’ll overeat later in the day, struggle more with mood swings and fatigue, and battle a weight problem in the long run. Be sure to eat breakfast, but make it light and include some carbohydrates, such as cereal, fruit, and milk. Then have lunch. Something as simple as a sandwich, nonfat milk, and a piece of fruit will fuel your brain, body, and mood.

JWM: One way a lot of us make the cold hours pass better is with something to nibble on. What about snacks?

ES: Snack, but not on sweets. A voracious sweet tooth during the winter months also might stem from low serotonin levels. Chowing down on sweets works temporarily – serotonin levels rise and we feel better. But that high is followed by a crash, setting up a roller coaster of highs and lows that causes overeating and weight gain. Replace these foods with more nutritious sweet treats, such as fresh-sliced kiwi mixed with nonfat strawberry-kiwi yogurt, a half papaya filled with lemon yogurt, fresh fruit layered in a parfait glass and topped with a dollop of low-fat whipped cream, or nonfat milk whipped in a blender with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

JWM: But how about people who have a sweet tooth? As you said, sugar is counter-effective in the long run. What should they do?

ES: One way to sooth your mood and save your waistline is to switch from fatty sweets to high-quality carbs, such as whole grain breads and crackers, brown rice, oatmeal, or starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes. Plan a mid-afternoon all-carb snack, such as half a whole wheat English muffin with jam, 3 fig bars, or drizzle honey over a toasted cinnamon bagel to counteract the desire to eat sweets at this crave-prone time of day. Also include carb-rich foods in your meals, such as pasta primavera or marinara, whole wheat couscous, or yams cut into strips and baked on a cookie sheet to make ‘French fries.’ (Serotonin also improves sleep, so a serotonin-boosting evening snack, such as air-popped popcorn or a scoop of sorbet, will help you sleep better, too!)

JWM: There is a lot that has been written about omega-3 fat DHA elevating your mood. How do you feel about that?

ES: You can definitely boost your spirits by taking either omega-3 fat DHA supplements of food rich in it. Research shows that this fat helps boost mood all year long, especially in the winter. In fact, DHA curbs depression by up to 50% in people who are the most difficult to treat; and even helps those who just battle a bit of grumpiness. Interestingly, researchers have found that people who are depressed have much lower levels of omega-3 fats in their blood, fat tissues, and brains — up to 36% lower than happy people. In fact, as omega-3 levels drop, so do levels of serotonin, leaving people grumpy, blue, and downright depressed. If your DHA levels are low, you have a 2.6 times greater risk of getting really crabby and blue compared to someone who keeps those levels high. On the other hand, up your intake of omega-3 fat DHA and serotonin levels rise and mood improves. The evidence is so overwhelming that the American Psychiatric Association in 2006 recommended omega-3s be included in any treatment for depression.

JWM: What are the best foods for omega-3 fat?

ES: You can get all the omega-3 fat you need from flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, leafy greens or soy to help lower your risk for heart disease, but those foods will do nothing for your mood or memory. That’s because there are three omega-3 fats, and they are not all created equal. It is only the omega-3s in fish, especially DHA, which will boost your mood. Aim for 2 servings of omega-3-rich fish such as salmon every week, choose foods fortified with DHA, and/or take a daily supplement that contains at least 220 milligrams of DHA.

JWM: If we don’t see any improvement in our mood or appetite after a few weeks on a high-carb menu, what should we do?

ES: Try substituting some of those carbs for more protein. New research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that some people don’t experience a mood boost when they eat high-carb diets. So, if you still feel grumpy after a week’s worth of the high-carb choices, try cutting back on the carbohydrates and  increasing protein intake by adding a slice of turkey or a glass of milk to the meal. Protein has a satiating effect that keeps you full longer and curbs cravings in some people.

JWM: A lot of people drink coffee to improve their mood. But for some, like me, it has the opposite effect. What are your thoughts about this?

ES: It’s better to limit coffee. While caffeine is a great pick-me-up, if you are drinking more than 3 small cups a day, it could be fueling fatigue. For the person who is sensitive to sugar or caffeine, simply removing these substances from the diet may be all it takes to reduce or even eliminate depression, according to research from the University of South Alabama. How coffee affects mood is unclear, although caffeine is a drug that affects the nervous system. Cut back or eliminate coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, colas, and caffeine-containing medications, such as Excedrin, Dristan, and Dexatrim.

JWM: We spend so much time in heated rooms in the winter, leading to not only dry skin, but dry everything. Is that a factor?

ES: Absolutely. Actually, the first sign of dehydration is fatigue, which is the stepping stone for depression. Many of us are mildly dehydrated, because thirst is a poor indicator of your body’s need for water. Drink twice as much water as it takes to quench your thirst, or at least 8 glasses daily. Drink even more water if you exercise intensely or drink a lot of coffee and tea.

JWM: Are there any other supplements that you recommend that can affect our moods?

ES: It is difficult in winter to constantly keep up the proper quantities of fresh vegetables and fruit. So several nutrient deficiencies, including the B vitamins, are more common in the winter that indicate a link to impaired mental ability and mood swings. More than one in four patients with depression is deficient in vitamins B2, B6, and B12, and folic acid. B-rich foods include chicken, legumes, fish, bananas, avocados, and dark green leafy vegetables. A moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral, supplies these B vitamins and can fill in the nutritional gaps on those days when you don’t eat perfectly. In addition, preliminary evidence suggests that low vitamin D levels, which can occur due to lack of exposure to sunlight, might contribute to winter blues. So make sure your supplement has at least 1000IU of this important nutrient.

JWM: What about exercise? Please don’t say to take a spin class or use the elliptical machines, my two fitness nemeses in any season!

ES: Any kind of exercise is good. It’s well proven that people who are vigorously active almost every day are at much lower risk for developing any form of depression, including winter blues.

Now if I can get my husband, The Lawyer, to sprint to take omega-3 supplements while drinking a gallon of water, I might have some peace around here before springtime!

Getting started, again

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We started off the year with high hopes.

We were going to find love!
Start new jobs!
Let go of old hurts!

Now that it’s March, it’s time to do an evaluation.
Are you any closer? Are you have the sort of realistic conversations with yourself that are going to stop you from repeating the same old, same old? Or are you still back in 2013?

I hope as you’re reading this that you are thinking back on the short time since the turning of the year and you’re already proud of how far you’ve come, but in case you aren’t, here are some ideas to help you get back on track.

1. Time to affirm your intent. Remember the feeling and place you were in to make you set a big intent in the first place? Maybe you were worn out. Maybe you were on fire with the passion of a new idea. Even if you’re not in the same place you were when you originally made you’re intent, affirming it means you’re still saying “yes!” to that idea. Regardless of where you are today, you are just as committed to your dream.

2. Set visual reminders. I’m not above taking a page out of a teen girl’s book and leaving decorating my walls with reminders. Whether that’s notes on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator to remind myself of a new mindset or empty boxes in my bedroom to remind me to finally purge my closet of all the things I don’t need, a visual reminder is a tangible shift from seeing things the way they’ve always been.

3. Make an appointment with yourself. A boss I had taught me how invaluable it can be to make appointments with yourself, especially living in our fast-paced culture. You have someone asking you to get coffee (not necessarily a bad thing) and so you look down at your calendar and find an open place. If you’re like me, this might happen half a dozen times in a week and so you keep filling up the open places in your calendar with meaningful conversations and meetings. But then you arrive at the end of the week and realize you’ve left no time for your own plans or progress. Before you make it to Monday, sit down and find a block of time that can be added to your calendar that is reserved for the tasks that are hanging over your head. Writing? Organizing? Going to the gym? Sometimes it feels selfish to save time for you, but you would never tell a friend that making their own positive progress was selfish, so why is it for you?

So where are you getting started?
It’s possible you don’t feel progress being made because you never set an intention to begin with.
Check out this Year of Intent intention made my Mallika Chopra:

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 2.02.44 PM(click the image to see the entire intention)

Since originally posting about her new book, Mallika has been updating, affirming and responding to the comments left by other users. It keeps her motivated and, most importantly, focused on accomplishing a satisfying task- her newest book.

If it’s March and you lasted a good week on your resolutions and intentions, that’s fine. We’re here to get you started again.
So, again, I’ll ask where are you getting started?
What’s it going to take to get going?

Interested in checking out other Year of Intent goals? Check them out here.
Then set your own at Intent.com!

Recipe: Kale and Quinoa Salad For Refreshing Lunch or Dinner

kale and quinoa saladI’ve been trying to lose weight since…well, since birth pretty much. I’ve been trying a lot harder now that I live on my own and have a lot more control over what I eat. One of the first things every diet (and I’ve been on most of them so I’m pretty knowledgeable of the field) is that it’s important to be able to cook for yourself. For the past three years I’ve learned to live mostly off of microwavable Lean Cuisines (have you tried their french bread pizza? Delicious!) but a few weeks ago I decided to give real cooking a try.

It turns out I’m kind of good at it! I started with a few recipe’s from Dr. Mark Hyman‘s book “The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook” because sugar is a huge weakness for me. My dad swears that I must be half ant. Anyway, I made my through sweet potato burgers, lemon garlic chicken, and a few great smoothies. Then shortly into the cooking expedition I started experimenting on my own! I made some really awesome yorkshire puddings and chicken olive oil pasta… before realizing I was heading back into my old carb heavy (and carbs are just bread sugars) habits. So I took some inspiration from Dr. Hyman and from my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles – Franklin & Co. and perfected a kale and quinoa salad that I wanted to share with all of you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium boneless chicken breast / pre-cut chicken strips (can leave out for vegetarian/vegan options)
  • kale (I prefer Trader Joes kale because it’s already washed and cut, but to each their own!)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 avocado
  • dried cranberries
  • 4-5 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (Have a bottle ready if you’re going with chicken)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Preparations:

Chicken – If you’re going for the carnivore version of this salad, defrost a medium or small size chicken breast or frozen chicken strips. (I found some really great pre-cut chicken pieces, boneless and not mechanically processed at my nearby Super Target, go figure).  Fill a medium sauce pan with just enough olive oil to cover the bottom the pan and cook chicken on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Make sure to flip over about half-way through. Chicken is properly cooked when the pinkness from the center has disappeared. Add seasoning as you wish – I like a small dash of garlic herb or lemon and pepper – but add a pinch of whatever you like. If you used a chicken breast, cut into desired pieces to add into the salad.

Quinoa – The first time I tried this I used a full cup of quinoa and had some left over for weeks, so I’ve learned to cut down (1 cup of uncooked quinoa = 3 cups cooked, jeez). Add 1/2 cup of quinoa with 1 cup of water in a small pot and cook on medium to low heat until the water is absorbed into the quinoa (Usually about 10-12 minutes, but may vary depending on your oven).

Kale – To prepare the kale, wash the leaves and cut away any extra long and thick stems. Add 1bsp olive oil, 1tbsp lemon juice and 1/4 tsp of sea salt to the leaves. Then using your hands massage the mixture into the kale (just like you’re rubbing someone’s shoulders). You’ll see the kale curl into a rich dark green and you’ll know it’s ready.

Salad – Add the dried cranberries, tomatoes, chicken, quinoa and avocado to the salad and mix. The lemon juice and olive oil you used to massage the kale mix well enough that you won’t need any additional dressing (calorie save, what!).

This has been my staple lunch for a few weeks now because once I got the hang of cooking the chicken it only takes a few minutes to make! Feel free to change up the cranberries for something different if you aren’t a fan (I’ve tried it with strawberries or olives instead, but cranberries are still my favorite). Even with chicken the salad comes in under 300 calories if you are conservative with the olive oil. I’ve heard many of my friends complain about kale’s bitter taste which makes them reluctant to eat it. When you massage it with this scrub it makes it so delicious though. It’s such a refreshing dish.

This post has been part of my intent to cook more and get more confident in the kitchen. Please support my intent or help out by sharing your favorite recipes with me! 

From Intent.com: 30 Days of Okay

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I was 24 when I had my first panic attack. I seriously had no idea what was happening. I was driving a car and I was fresh from a situation where I felt like there was no escape. Before I knew it, I was pulled over on the side of the road, crying and trying to catch my breath.

Your body will let you do a lot of the steering of your life, but it is during an anxiety attack that you feel a little bit like a PC being taken down into Safe Mode. At a certain point, everything shuts down until you can get your head back on straight and that is a scary thought. To think that as an adult, my body might still have to say “she’s not ready to handle mess when it comes our way” is more scary to me than the actual panic attack.

It’s been a long time of learning about panic attacks- what causes them, what ends them, what is actually happening in the middle of them. I wish I could say I haven’t had one in years, but that’d be incorrect. So the other day on Intent.com, I posted my new intent to practice “30 Days of Okay”.

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For 30 days, when I feel myself start to freak out, I’m going to focus on this intent.
I am, in fact, okay.
And while things might not be ideal at the moment, in the grand scheme of things, I am going to live.

I have good friends and family.
I have a job I love.
I have opportunities that I don’t even close to deserve.
And tomorrow is always a new day.
I’m going to be okay.

I’ve been super inspired by some of the other 30 day intents on Intent.com.
Like,

So what about you?
In 30 days, who would you want to be?

How Much Sodium Does a Water Softener Add to Your Diet?

When you think of drinking a glass of water, you probably don’t worry about drinking a bunch of sodium. However, depending on where you live and your local water supply, you could be drinking saltier water than you have to. Many households use water softeners that contain sodium to get rid of hard water. Understanding how water softeners work and your options for softening your water will help you make the best decision for your home.

What Is the Difference Between Hard & Soft Water?

As water moves through pipes to reach your house, it can pick up minerals from the pipes and the ground. Depending on the amount of minerals in the water, chemists classify water as hard or soft. Hard water has lots of magnesium and calcium ions. Soft water has less magnesium and calcium ions but may have sodium or potassium ions instead. These ions in your water can affect everything from the water’s taste to how well your detergent works to build up in your plumbing.

The minerals in hard water can combine with detergent to produce a sticky scum that will end up anywhere you use soap. Hard water can also leave water stains on glasses washed in a dishwasher. Because of these issues, most people use water softeners to remove some of the minerals from hard water and have better-washed clothes and dishes. Soft water may feel more slippery and sometimes has a slightly salty taste.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners are systems that contain a resin through which your drinking water passes. As the water moves through the resin, the resin pulls the calcium and magnesium ions out and puts in either sodium or potassium ions instead. These sodium and potassium ions work better with your detergent to help remove dirt and oil, to the point that you can use less soap to get everything just as clean.

Water softeners typically treat your drinking water and not water used in irrigation. You need to backwash the resin in the water softener system to remove any dirt and make sure that the correct balance of sodium or potassium ions is present to remove the magnesium and calcium. Sometimes water softening systems need more salt added to recharge the resin with sodium ions.

How Much Sodium Is Added to the Water?

The amount of sodium added from a water softening system varies based on the manufacturer and specifications of the system. Untreated tap water already has a small amount of sodium in it. If you live in an area with very hard water, you will need to add more sodium to make your water soft. Typically water softening systems add between 10 to 40 milligrams of sodium per eight ounce glass of water. While this may not seem like a lot of sodium, it presents a source of sodium that most people don’t consider when they think of dietary sodium in their daily intake.

Why Should You Avoid Salt-Based Water Softener Systems?

If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you should avoid using salt-based water softener systems. These systems will introduce more sodium into your diet. Even if you are not concerned about the sodium, these systems use extra water during the backwashing phase. Salt-based water softener systems waste water because water is used to flush the system. Salt-based water softener systems are not environmentally friendly due the excess sodium pumped back into the sewer system.

There are options for non-sodium based water softeners to suit your needs. Saltless water softener systems do not use chemicals or salts of any kind. No added salt means that your water is not slippery or salty tasting. Because there is no salt, the salt-free water softener systems do not waste water or add sodium to the sewer system.

When dealing with hard water in your home, you have options to keep your plumbing free of buildup and your dishes and clothes as clean as possible without using excess detergent. Understanding the differences between the various water softening systems can direct you towards the system that will work best for your home. Which system would you prefer for your home?

Exercise for Joy, Energy, and Happiness

woman-and-scale-shutterstock1Every year I set the same resolutions – lose 15 pounds, cut out refined sugar, meditate daily, exercise 5 times a week – resolutions that seem like nostalgic wishes by mid February. This year I set the intent I am living with the intent to feel energetic, creative, joyful, centered and inspired

And, while I am making a commitment to work out more often and eat more mindfully, I am committing to physical activities that make me feel connected spiritually and full emotionally rather than torturing myself just to shed pounds.

I am discovering a love of yoga (believe it or not, I am not a yogi – read about it here!) through a group class I am doing with other mom friends.  Historically, yoga has been a struggle for me as I have felt like I am “bad” at it.  But this year I am approaching it differently – inspired, as I often am, by the guiding philosophy of my good friend Tara Stiles.

Tara and I recently hosted a SCLA event in San Francisco and as I watched Tara twist and turn in amazing ways to hip hop music during our event, I noticed the intention to find joy, creativity, and challenge by those in her class. Tara’s approach to yoga made it fun, rich and fulfilling for all those in the class, even if they couldn’t keep up with her!

In an interview I did with Tara last year, she talked about the joy she discovered in yoga:  “(As a dancer), everything has to be perfect or you’re not completing the movement. That’s what was so exciting about yoga. You’re going to your own limit and finding the ease in that moment.  From a mental, spiritual and emotional aspect it was definitely key. I was like, ‘I have to do this forever!’”

What I am enjoying about my own weekly yoga class is that I can do it at my own pace.  And its social!  I have as much fun chatting with the other mom friends as I do stretching and breathing. We’ve always been big supporters of yoga here on Intent and encourage all of you to give it a try if you’re looking for a practice that not only works you out but also helps you connect to your body through your mind and spirit.

I’ve also been on a few hikes on the lovely trails here in Santa Monica where I live, not checking my phone for emails, and walking in silence noticing the beauty of nature. 

And, this weekend I plan to start running on the beach again – one of the most emotionally healing things I have done in the past. For my 40th birthday, I ran a half marathon and found a love for running because of how it made me feel emotionally. Working out with an activity that makes you feel happy and better about yourself is much healthier than doing something you hate because it’ll trim fat.

Hopefully my strategy of living with intent this year will help me realize some of the changes I am seeking in my life more effortlessly and with lasting impact.  And more importantly, because I am having fun, feeling connected and inspired, I am anticipating my physical time, rather than feeling burdened by it. This will keep me motivated to stay on the path to healthier living!

Like Mallika’s blog? Support these similar intents on Intent.com!

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24 Intentions to Manifest in New Year

So there are just a few days left of this year! What are you intending to manifest for this coming year? Do you have any unfulfilled goal from this year that you wish to accomplish next year? There is no better way to manifest your desires than to release your intentions out into the universe and allow it to unfold on its own accord! The best moment to plant seeds of your intentions in your consciousness is during your meditation. In meditation, you connect with deeper levels of your awareness, making a better foundation to manifest your deepest desires. I recommend bringing your awareness on your heart and set the intention that feels just right at that moment. Then release it and don’t worry about when and how it will manifest…just know that if it is meant to be it will. Just have full faith on the energy of your heart. The power of love is magical enough to create many miracles!

Here are 24 intentions that you may use for a better and happier new year. Try working with 2 every month and see where it leads to. Don’t attempt to use one for each hour of the day… this is too much.  Just take it slow and steady.

  • Expressing love more often.
  • Understanding that forgiveness is an everyday ritual.
  • Witnessing the temple in your physical body and taking care of it.
  • Practicing compassion towards all.
  • Spending time in nature.
  • Creating thoughts that lead to optimism and courage.
  • Building an attitude of gratitude.
  • Meditate everyday even for a  few minutes.
  • Being bold without being a bully.
  • Treating work as a way to serve others.
  • Respectfully parting from those who discourage and lower your self esteem.
  • Stop blaming destiny and start working on manifesting your own goals.
  • Staying present.
  • Staying in touch with old friends.
  • Taking a break from work to relax.
  • Eating healthier.
  • Reading books and articles to expand awareness.
  • Staying offline often to connect with the people in your life.
  • Fall in love.
  • Letting go off regrets.
  • Release the need to treat yourself so seriously.
  • Being kind, but not weak.
  • Complimenting others more often.
  • Breaking the norms.

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Ginger Masala Chai Worthy of a New York Winter

chai-tea-e-liquidI recently moved to New York City from California and am (ahem) “enjoying” my first real winter here. Let the wuss jokes begin!

It’s alright. I’m laughing at myself, too. Born and raised in California, used to being fairly tan, gets cold easily, loves sunshine so much she’s basically part lizard… Yep, that’s me. Now instead of donning a windbreaker for misty San Francisco mornings or wearing a hat for fun in the 60 degree Los Angeles winter sun, I’m learning the art of boots, down coats, ear muffs, long johns and mittens. Endless mittens. See you next April, world, because I am officially 75% clothing right now, and I can barely see over my scarf.

It’s going to be a long winter.

In all honesty, though, I love autumn and winter. I love the snow; I love the holidays; I love the feeling of warming up after being cold. It probably has something to do with a nesting instinct. One of the most beloved memories I have from childhood is making nests with my big sister on rainy days and sick days. When it was miserable, grey and raining outside, or when we were stuck in the house with colds and fevers, my sister would orchestrate a grand “nesting.” We’d pile tons of blankets and pillows on the ground, arranged in little cup-shaped seats like an egg carton. And then we’d hop inside the nest with a box of Nilla wafers and tea and watch a Disney movie to pass the time. Pure joy.

I still make nests of sorts, as does she, both literally and figuratively. Sans actual blankets and pillows, I just love making people feel warm, comfortable, and cared for. In any kind of weather, there’s little I love more than bringing people together around a table for delicious food and loving company. But this is a particularly important practice during the cold and dark months when our souls really need that extra swaddling. And many traditional winter recipes do the trick of warming us inside out.

Case in point, spice-infused recipes. This season you’re undoubtedly enjoying foods flavored with all kinds of spices, whether you know it or not. Butternut squash soup, gingerbread cookies, curries and stews, applesauce, etc. Winter recipes tend to incorporate many different spices, for several reasons. In Ayurveda, the winter season is associated with exacerbated Vata qualities, which are best assuaged through warming foods. This can be literally hot foods (like soup, hot cereal and warm drinks) and/or through warm-ing foods, made invigorating through the use of spice.

Even outside of Ayurveda, there’s a very practical reason to eat more spice during the winter. It’s cold, there’s a bug going around, you’re sniffly and sick…Voilà, spices curb cold and flu symptoms! Ginger, for instance, is an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It can help boost your immune system, loosen mucus, open your sinuses, and relieve sore throats. That’s a lot for one little root!

Keeping the health benefits in mind, as well as the essential need for warming and nesting that we all experience during this season, I offer you chai.

“Masala chai” is the Hindi term for a drink made with black tea, milk, and lots of spice. It is a drink that has been consumed in South Asia for centuries and is traditionally much less sweet and much more spicy than what you’d get at your local coffee shop. I can’t necessarily vouch for the total authenticity of my recipe, as I’ve never been to India, but I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Ginger Masala Chai

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (I like organic whole milk, but soy, almond, or oat work as well)

2 cups of water

3 tablespoons of loose leaf, unflavored black tea (the stronger the better; I like Darjeeling)

1/4 teaspoon Wakaya Perfection ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of saffron

2 whole, crushed up cardamom cloves

3 teaspoons of Turbinado sugar (or Agave, honey, etc)

Instructions:

Get two saucepans going on the stove on medium heat. Pour the milk in one and the water in the other. You’ll need to work in both pots simultaneously. As the milk begins to warm, add the pinch of saffron, pressing it between your fingertips gently before dropping it in the saucepan.

Once the water in the other pot begins to boil, add the loose tea leaves and reduce to a low simmer. Let steep 3-5 minutes. While you’re waiting, add the sugar to the milk and stir until it dissolves. Once the tea is ready, place a strainer over the milk and strain the tea water into the milk saucepan. Now you’re working in just one pot.

Start building the spice. Add the ginger, cinnamon and any other spices you want to the pot, saving the cardamon to the side for the end. You can try the chai to see if it has the right spice/sugar ratio, and adjust until it’s just right. Bring the pot to a boil, and as it begins to bubble up, throw the cardamon in and turn the heat off right away. The chai will stew for a second, cooling down slightly, and the cardamon will infuse the drink just enough without overpowering it.

Serve in two mugs and enjoy! Stay warm, everyone!

Two Recipes to Personify the Winter Season

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 11.19.44 PMThere are so many things to love about winter: soft, fluffy scarves to bundle up in, holidays to celebrate with loved ones, and of course all the many traditional dishes filled with hearty ingredients and warm spices.

The ingredient that personifies this time of year more than any other for me is ginger.  It’s a spicy spice in the best kind of way one that warms you from the inside out.  It works in everything from a Thanksgiving cranberry chutney recipe to a simple herbal tea.  And ginger is not just about flavor and spice, it’s also one of the most well studied herbs in botanical medicine, with an impressive body of research to support its use for a variety of health conditions including improvement in muscle and joint pain, nausea due to pregnancy or chemotherapy and a variety of other conditions where inflammation plays a role (which is almost everything).

Fun fact: Dried ginger is ten times more healing than fresh

Here are a couple recipes with ginger that I love to make this time of year:

Simple Ginger Tea

I make this tea when I’m feeling cold and a bit lazy.  It leaves me feeling instantly warm and healthy.

  • Thoroughly wash a chunk of fresh ginger rhizome (root) and use a carrot grater to remove the outer skin
  • Slice lengthwise into two or three thick pieces and add one to two slices to a cup of very hot water or tea (green or raspberry leaf are some of my favorite choices)
  • Steep for 3-4 minutes and enjoy

Superfood Muesli

I’ve modified this recipe from one I was introduced to while in naturopathic medical school.  I love it because you can make a big batch that will last for weeks and it’s fun to get creative with different spices and ingredients.  Although this dish can be eaten warm or cold, I like to warm it up in the winter for a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast that provides excellent whole-food nutrition and energy.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups rolled grains (e.g. oats, rye, barley, and/or rolled rice flakes)
  • 2 cups oat bran
  • ½ cup dried, unsulphured fruit (e.g. raisins, dates, blueberries, cranberries)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds (can be ground)
  • 1 cup raw nuts (e.g. walnuts and almonds)
  • 1 cup seeds (e.g. ground flax seed, chia)
  • 1 tsp each of one or more of ground ginger

Combine all ingredients, mix well and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  To make a single serving, scoop a ½ cup into a bowl and add 1 cup liquid (e.g. water, nut milk or dairy milk are all good options).  Soak overnight and then heat in microwave in the morning or, to prepare right away, heat in a saucepan until grains are soft and ingredients have absorbed all the liquid.

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Image by Muy Yum

From Intent.com: Why Wait

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 3.18.33 PM

So the month of December is officially the month of “Why Wait” here at Intent.

In our newsletter last week, we wrote that there is nothing special about January 1.

Nothing magical will happen to you at the stroke of midnight of 2014 that will magically give you the empowerment or will power you never felt like you had in 2013. If you want to make a change, if you want to take a step out courageously, then there’s no need to wait for January 1. You can and should do that today!

Needing some inspiration?
Here are some of Intent users that could use our support:

So here are some questions to ask yourself-

1. If you could have any life, no limits, what would it look like?
In the brainstorming process for ANYTHING, it’s important to let yourself imagine everything as a possibility- large or small. Don’t try and edit yourself while in the brainstorming process. It only slows you down. Instead let yourself think outlandishly. Imagine yourself as an astronaut. Imagine yourself only needing to sleep 3 hours a day. Whatever life you could dream of, give yourself unlimited freedom for a short amount of time to really push the limits in picturing it.

2. What has to come? What has to go?
After you decide whether or not it’s practical (ie- “I want to be Harry Potter. Like, real Harry Potter. I want a magic wand and an archnemesis with no nose), then ask yourself what things would have to enter your life to make it a reality. Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make some of those things realities? If so, move forward. If not, cross those things off the list. The things you’re passionate about are going to be worth your time and energy. By the same token, some things are going to have to go. You’ve always wanted to paint, but your evening are filled up with every activity but that. If you love those other activities, that is one thing. That might require you use a little bit of calendar rotation. But, if your calendar is filled up with things that you are less than jazzed about, start taking steps to pull back and slowly phase out of them. How do you know which things you don’t love? They’re normally the things that make you say “Tonight I have [insert activity]. UGH.”

3. Set some big goals.
In the past I’ve talked about how we give ourselves small goals so we don’t fail. You want to get in shape so you set a goal of going to the gym once a week. That’s not bad, right? You’re currently going to the gym zero times a week, so that’s 100% improvement, right? Wrong. What happens when the day you picked gets slammed with a last minute meeting? What happens if you get sick that day? I say, with life changing goals, aim high. Say you’re going to the gym 5 times a week. If you end up missing one or two or three of those days, you’re still getting greater motivation to get up and out the door. You’re still going to see results of 3 days working out versus just 1. And I say that’s worth the effort.

So what are you waiting on?
What is the life you’re dreaming of?
Why wait?

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