Friday, December 28, 2012

Turmeric Tea and the New Year

My decision to return to a more natural, less-processed life- and food-style is one that has been coming for a long time. I did this seven years ago with wonderful results (loss of 55lbs, cessation of diabetes symptoms and test results), but I slowly ebbed away from it. Not sure why. Just began to drift into the habits of others around me. This culminated this year with hanging around many smokers. Needless to say, there were many negative outcomes.

With the latest illness that dampened my sense of taste and smell, I knew I had to change. The smokers are no longer in close proximity, and my desire to return to former good habits returned with a vengeance. But, there is always something new to learn!
Turmeric Tea [light yellow milky tea in a white cup]

I discovered a tea that includes a ordinary spice in our cabinets that has been the subject of many studies and continues to be on the radar in health and wellness circles. That spice is turmeric. There are many versions of the tea, but the one I use is this:

8oz almond milk (I like Vanilla)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
 (I don't have fresh right now, but I have a jar of minced ginger that keeps forever in the refrigerator! I used 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Dash of black pepper (I have a jar that grates it from peppercorns)
1/2 tsp honey (or other sweetener) to taste

All you have to do is heat up the almond milk to near boiling, and mix in the other ingredients. I don't strain it, but if you don't like the feel of the spices, you could strain it for a smoother taste. Use the honey or other sweetener to your taste. This is as good as  or better than a homemade chai to me!

Turmeric, both fresh and dried powder form
There are many benefits to turmeric. A cousin of ginger, tt has been used for generations as a cooking spice companion to cumin in India, the West Indies and other locations. It is known in the Aurvedic and Chinese health and wellness circles as a potent anti-inflammatory and digestive aid. I am also studying aromatherapy, specifically essential oils and incense, but turmeric is often mentioned as a spice that can be used for its health properties.

But, I must discuss something that is very important. In my studies, I find so many different opinions on what works for different physical conditions. I can not give medical advice or even specific health and wellness advice. What I can do is point you toward established and well trusted links for information and remind everyone that they should always consult their doctor if they are going to add, subtract or change anything in their diet or lifestyle.

With that said, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, turmeric has been shown in studies to fight infections and some cancers, reduce inflammation and treat digestive problems. While this is encouraging, these studies have not been on humans and have concentrated on the main active substance in turmeric, curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. Curcumin fights free radicals in the body as well as lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation.

Safety concerns around turmeric center around pregnant or breastfeeding women, who should not use it. Also, anyone with a history of ulcers or kidney stones should avoid turmeric as a health/wellness option. It has not been studied in children, so therefore there are no recommendations for that group as well. As a cooking spice, it is safe, but anything other than that, should be avoided by the groups mentioned.

Other areas of concern are diabetics (turmeric may lower blood sugar levels) and anyone on blood thinners (turmeric may act like a blood thinner as well) and medications to reduce stomach acid.

I know that seems a lot, but the safety of my readers is so important to me. So far, I drink one cup of turmeric tea a day. I find that any mucus in my chest and feelings of inflammation in my joints decrease soon after drinking it. Since there is also cinnamon in this tea, the effect may be enhanced, as cinnamon is also known to be an anti-inflammatory spice.

In the upcoming year, I will write more about my journey. There is so much to share! Some upcoming topics include:
  • No more flouride-laden toothpaste
  • Face and skin care from the pantry
  • Spice mixes without the preservatives
  • Natural eating on a budget 
Let me know if you try turmeric tea. Here is also a link for homemade chai tea. Enjoy!

Links for your research: 
American Cancer Society - Turmeric
University of Maryland Medical Center - Turmeric
Medline Plus - Turmeric

Reader Feedback:
What are you doing to increase health and wellness while saving money? And, if there is a food-related health and wellness subject you would like me to cover, let me know. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Foodie Reborn: The New Normal and Loving It!

Woman with eyes closed, breathing...

Yesterday on Facebook, I wrote the following:
Eating a bowl of chili for lunch. Man, it looks good! You know, losing most of my sense of taste and smell makes me appreciate so much in life. I take so much more time now to savor and experience food. I close my eyes and try to catch the slightest aroma. I chew slower and relish textures, putting the faintest tastes down to new memories. I have a new found appreciation for everything I put in my mouth.
It was a profound moment. One that at once acknowledged the changes in my life, and yet, pointed toward the future of how life is so much more interesting and precious.

Often throughout the last two months, I hesitated to write in this blog. I felt that I couldn't do anyone's restaurant or food creation justice, because of the changes I'd been through. I knew in my head that I needed to go on (see the last two entries here and there), but I just couldn't seem to convince my heart that anyone wanted to see me stumble through trying to describe things I could barely taste. I couldn't reconcile it until yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, I sat down to a bowl of my quick chili, made from a recipe I've worked on for many years. This last creation contained three types of meat; ground turkey, ground beef (20/80) and a good portion of a leftover slow-cooker roast. After two days, I knew it would be perfectly blended and as I reheated a bowl, I performed the ritual that lately has become my norm. I lifted the bowl to my nose, closed my eyes, and breathed in; first the right side and then the left. With eyes closed, I concentrated on scent alone, and I inhaled through each side independently.

I know I can smell from the right side. It is the left side that is blunted and weak. Still, I inhaled, only now with purpose. I know I am training my mind to pick up on whatever it can catch. I am like a visually-impaired person, first learning to use a white cane; relying on other senses and even an inner sense to guide me.

Only after doing this for a couple of seconds, do I begin to taste the food. Again, one side is stronger than the other. I start with the strong side but quickly include the weaker side so that the participation is complete. Closing my eyes once again, I savored the taste of the rice against the longer grain of the roast. The smooth, silky slip of French Onion Dip - a last minute sub for sour cream (which turned out to be a hit!) - descends into and in between the spicy beans and granules of ground meats. As I chew, the mixture blends together, breaks apart into different sensations and melds back again.

It is glorious!

In the past, being a foodie was something I took for granted. I had a wonderful sense of smell, inherited from my mother (she was the type to smell the gas from the stove before you opened the door!) and I enjoyed everything new and different. Where friends hesitated, I dove right into different cuisines, dishes and ethnic treats. From my teen years on, sampling the new and revisiting the tried and true was a mainstay of my life, regardless of where I lived or jobs I held. Now, with my senses dulled, I'm forced to appreciate every....single...thing, every...single...bite. Things as simply as tomato soup or a cheddar multi-grain chip or liverwurst on swirl rye and pump; nothing is taken for granted.

Pile of multi-grain chips. Savory bits of cheddar crunch!

No longer do I rush any meal. No longer am I bored at repeats of any food. If it has spent a day or two blending flavors, I stop to notice it. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply at every plate and glass before even taking a bite or a sip.

The old adage is true. What was meant to destroy me has made me stronger. An illness I thought would destroy my desire for food and its aftermath is the driving force for how I enjoy food more and more.

In about two days, I will join the local advocacy group W.E.A.N. - Charlotte for a holiday get-together at disability-friendly Cheddars restaurant in the University area of Charlotte. It will be the first restaurant/food spot review since October. I can't wait! I intend to savor every dish...and maybe even those of my dining mates! I am a foodie reborn!

Stay tuned...

Readers Turn to Share: 
What has made you stronger though you were convinced at first it wouldn't?  How has it changed your  relationship to ordinary things in life or social interactions?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cooking Is Therapy

Image created by Ops! Studio
I am sure others could write more eloquently on this subject. There are programs that use cooking as a rehabilitative program for people who are marginalized in society. There are cooking classes for children with autism. So, I know there are experts in the field of therapy who could take this and make it into a dissertation. But, my ability to focus has changed since I became ill over a month ago, so I am only going to write what I can.

Every day is a struggle for me lately. Not sure whether it was the original illness or the steroids that followed, but my cognitive skills have suffered. Not really complaining, but between that and the loss of the ability to smell and taste clearly, writing a blog about food has changed position on my priority list.

Until just about an hour ago.

Just about an hour ago, I took out all the ingredients for my Pumpkin Bread recipe. What started out as a simple recipe downloaded from a food site has turned into an annual ritual for my family, neighbors and friends. As I took everything out, I could feel my spirits rise just a bit. Then I went and sat down.

I am not one to linger on the negativity, but I felt overwhelmed. Just to do a simple recipe that I've done many times before seemed too much. After another 20 minutes went by, I returned to the kitchen and began to measure and mix my ingredients.

And, then it happened. I felt whole. Measuring the spices, mixing my dry and wet ingredients separately, pulling upon the knowledge I know is stored in my head; all this felt exhilarating!

As everything became incorporated and I poured the batter into two floured and greased glass loaf pans, the sense of accomplishment was almost palatable, and I heard the words in my mind: Cooking Is Therapy. that was all I needed to hear and know.

It may be that I will always need a taste-tester. And it is difficult to accept that for an indefinite period of time, I am without the ability to taste and smell clearly. It has rocked my little foodie world.

But, today, after sliding the pans into a 350 degree oven, I felt the desire and capacity to write about this experience; a capacity I haven't felt for nearly six weeks.

Two glass loaf pans in the oven!
I can't say whether my writing will be the same. I know two of my sense are not. Just faintly, I caught the scent of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and clove as I added them to the dry ingredients. A little stronger was the sweetness of the batter (the sense of sweetness is the only one that has returned to a decent level) and I remembered how well it went with a Spiced Cream Cheese Dip. I may have to write from memory and share only the past. But, cooking is my therapy. It is my gateway to the world and a way to continue to share and connect.

As the holidays approach, I will continue to make sweet treats for my family (my sister is supposed to ship cinnamon baking chips next week!). It is okay to talk about sweet things this time of year and if it spurs my cooking and writing, all the better! If you are not into home baking or are just looking for good sweets around Charlotte, NC, please don't forget our local bakers and confectioners. Here are some of my favorites. Please feel free to list some of your local or online favorites!

Charlotte, NC
- Nona Sweets
- Southern Cake Queen (Mobile)
- The Blushing Bakeshop
- Suarez Bakery