Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Abundance of Beauty

These are only a few of the lovely items I purchased at the Holiday Bazaar at the home of my wonderful friend and next-door-neighbor, Sherri. Besides being Supergirl, my friend, Sherri, is an amazingly talented jewelry designer and creator. Her pieces are unique and coveted in this part of the world, and she comes up with new collections all the time. This year, because of growing demand for her pieces, she enlisted the help of a few "elves" for her workshop (more wonderful neighbor-friends). I love to see Sherri's business grow from year to year. Check out her page on Facebook: InspiredDesigns. I cannot show you all of what I purchased from Sherri and other wonderful, creative vendors she hosted in her home for the Bazaar, since some of you may become the recipients of this bounty come Christmastime.

Besides Sherri's jewelry, several other talented ladies presented their wares, many hand-crafted. The creative energy of the place was inspiring and really was a wonderful way to get blasted into the holiday spirit, which I am normally pretty bah-humbug about this time of year.

I enjoyed meeting some new talented people and also seeing again a couple of beautiful people who are not in my usual circle. These ladies, kindred spirits, were such a joy to see, and it seemed like we easily resumed the conversation we had started last year. They asked me why I'm not posting as often here and I explained how and why I'm in more of a "mom" chapter of life to my two teenagers. Of course this topic led back to a discussion we started last year about healthy lifestyles and how crucial good nutrition is. Dawn Corner is one of these ladies. She created the beautiful painting of the owl in the photo. All of her pieces utilize similar saturated, energy-drenched colors and are mesmerizing. I love them!

This year I made the acquaintance of a lovely lady named Peggy whose husband makes amazing hummus. Peggy and I got into a discussion about nutrition also, and this one evolved into a head and neck massage for me. Chakras momentarily aligned, I happily purchased one of each of Peggy's husband's hummus varieties: plain, roasted red pepper and sundried tomato. This is some seriously good stuff! I've been eating it for breakfast on an Eziekiel english muffin -- mmmm. Peggy gave me her business card, but it has somehow left my purse -- probably as I kept taking my checkbook out. Thank goodness her contact info is on the hummus label. I will be ordering more of this.

About an hour after closing time for day one of the Bazaar, clients and artists alike meandered out of Sherri's home, giving her a few hours of rest before it all was to begin again the next day. As I walked in my front door, I realized I hadn't paid for Sherri's jewelry, "shoplifting" all of it, so to speak. I quickly sent my friend a text fessing up and told her I'd bring it all back the next day, since she couldn't remember which pieces I had chosen. Then I remembered I had done exactly the same thing last year! Sherri provides a relaxed, festive shopping experience at her Bazaar, replete with wine, food and happy people, so when I absconded with the goods I felt like I was doing nothing more than leaving a party. Good thing she knows where I live!

When I showed up again the next morning, Dawn Corner, the artist, told me she had made me a juice! She had juiced fresh spinach, celery, carrot, lemon and one or two other veggies I cannot remember. She brought it in this nice cup:

and had put it in Sherri's 'fridge just for me. The juice didn't make it to the photo. I drank it and it was amazing, light and energizing. I thought this kind gesture from someone I see only once a year was so thoughtful.

The Bazaar, and all the amazing, talented, wise personalities it drew was a balm in troubled times. Being surrounded for a little while by folks who operate congruently with their spirits, creating and sharing, restores my faith in humanity.  When I speak of an abundance of beauty, the people are as much a part of that as the art they produce. I'm grateful and inspired!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Have You Tried No. 9?

Have you? I hadn't. I thought I'd tried them all, but this was a kombucha that was new to me. Tounge-tingling as any good kombucha, No. 9 doesn't feature the slight mouth-pucker-factor that I've found in other varieties, not that I find that a bad thing. No. 9 was a light, refreshing, berry-tinged restorative, imparting an uplifting calm in the most inoffensive way.  I liked it -- I think it's in a tie with my other favorite, Gingerade. I loved the color on this label too. Unfortunately, taken after dark, this photo is washed out by the flash, so the blue is not properly represented here. It looks pretty, in a cobalt-blue kind of way, but the purplish-indigo tones didn't make it through the flash. You'll have to pick up a bottle yourself to see what I mean.

For a while I had developed a pretty steady kombucha habit. I grew to rely on the nerve-tonic effect during trying times, especially in the afternoon when my energy was lower. It was no different than what a big bowl of kale would have done for my mood, but the drive to the natural foods store for this special treat made me feel I was doing something nice for myself. After a couple of weeks I noticed I'd picked up a couple of pounds. That doesn't happen on the vegan diet, except during vacation that is. So I had to think about what I'd been doing differently, and pinpointed the daily kombucha. I bothered to read the label for the first time, and realized each bottle is two days' servings. The calorie count is relatively low for each serving, but kombucha is not calorie-free.

Chastened by the reminder that anything to excess can't be good, I resolved to cut my habit to an occasional indulgence, and the spare pounds left as easily as they had arrived. But when I do indulge, I still drink the whole bottle at one sitting!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nabe Vegetables

I've enjoyed learning a bit about macrobiotics recently. I'm reading A Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics, by Jessica Porter and This Crazy Vegan Life by Christina Pirello. Christina dabbles in macrobiotics as well as vegan food, and makes her food choices for health reasons, so what she is putting out there resonates with me.

In Jessica's book, she explains the framework and philosophy behind a macrobiotic diet. The "energies" of foods, yin, or expanding, upward-growing and yang, or contracting, downward-growing. I like the way Jessica explains there is no judgement, no "right" or "wrong" only consequences for our choices. Perhaps most interesting to me was the notion that extreme yin and extreme yang do not cancel each other out, they just create extreme conditions for the body. The idea of macrobiotics is to engage yin and yang foods which are much less extreme on the spectrum, and thus easier for the body to assimilate.

Traditional Japanese methods of cooking are well-suited to a macrobiotic diet, as they are mindful of these energies. One such method is Nabe (pronounced "Nah - Bay"), a boiled preparation that sometimes contains seafood. Jessica presents a vegetable version in her book. There is no recipe per se, since the variations on this theme could be endless, but there are some guidelines which I followed, and I will share them with you here.

Nabe is essentially boiled vegetables, and  is not typically eaten with grains. Traditionally it is prepared on a portable burner in the center of the table, and is shared as it is being cooked similar to the way a fondue would be. Individual dishes of dipping sauce are provided to each diner, but this is not mandatory, since the sauce can be salty, resulting in too much yang. I liked the dipping sauce, and I watered it down with plenty of boiling liquid, so it was not too salty. The energy this dish imparts is very calming and healing. The vegetable bulk is quickly filling, but you may find yourself going back an hour or so later for seconds. When making nabe, a ratio of two upward-growing (yin) vegetables to one downward-growing (yang) should be followed, but the choice and amount of vegetables is entirely up to the chef.

For my nabe, I chose:
organic carrots (in macrobiotics, root veggies are not peeled, so organic is best)
bok choy

To begin, in a 4 quart pot, soak for at least ten minutes a 2" piece of kombu and two dried shitake mushrooms in spring water, filling the pot halfway. While soaking, wash and prepare the vegetables. Large chunks work best. When the seaweed and mushrooms are soft, slice them and return them to the pot, then bring the water to a boil. add a variety of the vegetables to the boiling liquid, removing them when they look softened with a slotted spoon and adding more raw vegetables. The veggies do not need to be cooked a certain length of time. It is all up to your personal taste. I found the bok choy to be the quickest-cooking and the carrots to need the most time.You may eat as you go, or collect the whole batch of vegetables first.

For each dipping sauce I used:
1 Tbsp. Shoyu
1 C. boiling liquid
1tsp. grated ginger
scallions for garnish

I did enjoy this dipping sauce. Jessica calls for squeezing the juice from the ginger, but I was too lazy, and I like a bit of root roughage anyway. I did go back for seconds, and at the end, rather than packing up the leftovers separately, I opted to not discard the flavorful boiling liquid and turned the whole thing into a light soup. I even tossed the unused dipping sauce into the soup. I ate the "nabe soup" this morning for breakfast. It was a great way to start my day.

I enjoy the mindfulness surrounding macrobiotics and will definitely be incorporating more macrobiotic principles into my vegan diet. Jessica cautions that foods begin to lose their vital energy with each passing day, so leftovers are not often a part of macrobiotics (!) Also she never microwaves, saying that our western culture is undergoing a "mass experiment" about the unknown dangers of living with all this radiation on a daily basis. These two notions fly in the face of the kind of lazy, waste-no-want-not chef that I am, so I will have to sit with them for a while and see if I can conceive of a way to alter my paradigm about food energies/radiation safety. The whole microwave thing is something that has been bothering me for some time already, actually, so that will likely leave my life before leftovers.

In February I will have been vegan for two years, and during that time my mind has opened in ways I never would have expected. The example of how I've handled my B12 deficiency is a good illustration.  Many folks, upon discovering the deficiency, would opt to chuck the whole vegan lifestyle. Instead, I'm grateful that I'd had enough time with the bountiful vegetable kingdom to understand its health benefits before needing to consider the deficiency. The vegan diet stopped my MS progression in its tracks, as evidenced by MRIs. Removing dairy has most dramatically changed my quality of life, providing so much more energy, a level, positive mood, a clearer head and no more seasonal allergies. Because of these benefits and more, I was not about to lose the veggie lifestyle due to a pesky lack of B12. Who would have imagined that these days I look forward to the day each week when I give myself my B12 injection. That day is an amazing gift, full of strength, energy and a quick mind, even more than what I otherwise experience. Problem solved, and no benefits lost!

This is just a long way of saying that an open mind during new discoveries has always benefitted me, so I won't be surprised if I find myself warming foods in the oven or on the stove instead of in the microwave, or even making smaller portions, more often, and loosening my dependence upon my old standby, the leftover.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brown Rice!

Just a short news flash today: Chipotle now has brown cilantro rice!! Also, the guy who ordered in front of me today ordered a Burrito Bol with Lettuce on the bottom! On the bottom -- that means mostly greens, and all the other stuff on top, not just a little handful of greens on the top of the other food. So, for the first time, I noticed a big tin of greens at the beginning of the line and also at the end.

But back to the brown rice -- brown rice at Chipotle really made my afternoon. I know you may be rolling your eyes, thinking, "whoa, it doesn't take much," but this'll remove a bit of guilt I've had over too much white rice. Chipotle is one of the only places where a vegan/macrobiotic mom, a vegetarian daughter, a health-conscious omnivore dad and a non-health-conscious omnivore son can all find something delicious to eat. Chipotle has long been a leader in providing food that is healthier, using organics when possible and meat without bovine growth hormone, but now a brown rice option! I no longer have to feel guilty about indulging! Yippee! That's all I needed to say today.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Season's Last Harvest

Here's the end of my summer harvest, pretty veggies, but nightshades all. I am learning so much about macrobiotics now, and I will make different choices next summer.

With Buster undoubtedly in hibernation, the vines had become a tangled mess groaning with heavy fruits, untouched by tiny little teeth. It's too cold for them to ripen outside, so I'll watch them blush on my kitchen counter instead. Isn't it amazing that now, well into November, I only just harvested all these veggies? There were a couple of frost-burned eggplants on the vine too, even as the tomatoes were growing larger and larger.

Now my garden is empty, except for the one buttercup squash that survived it's period in a pot as I waited for the summer nightshades to begin dying off.  I never was very good at stopping the life of an out-of-season vine while it is still productive. The casualties of my lack of ruthlessness are the bok choy and kale who didn't fare so well in the pot, waiting for a vacant spot in my garden. If I have time this week, I'll look around for some more winter veggies who'd like to settle in with the buttercup.