health

RI: berry beet compote

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I haven’t been cooking much creatively lately as I sort of fell out of line with my one true passion for a while. For a number of reasons, I thought I needed a different hobby; needed to get involved in a new creative venture. I’m slowly getting back into the kitchen, starting with simple, whole foods recipes that don’t require much effort. And, with the move, I’m trying to use up the random things left in my pantry, so I guess things do tend to get a bit interesting!

This RI: Recipe Inspiration series is intended to be a round up of flavor combinations, recipe techniques and ingredient profiles to encourage you to be playful and experimental in the kitchen. I don’t follow recipes very often, and I think it’s a good thing! We can flex our creative muscles and find things to fill up our dinner plate from what we have already lying around. Here we go!

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MIXED BERRY + BEET COMPOTE

Week after week, my CSA box was full of beets. I love beets, but it was a bit much. I steamed and froze some of them for future use, and the future of cleaning-out-the-freezer-before-the-move was coming up quick. Along with a bag of frozen mixed berries, I stewed everything together. Berries are a low-sugar fruit, and beets are a high-sugar vegetable, so #balance, and earthy-meets-sour notes abound. Paired with one the of the many options listed below, the flavor combo is right on. It’s absolutely delicious.

What you will need:

  1. Mixed berries (fresh or frozen), such as blueberries, black berries, raspberries, strawberries
  2. Fresh or frozen steamed beets, chopped
  3. Coconut sugar or other natural sweetener (honey or maple syrup work well)

What to do:

  1. To a saucepan, add berries and beets. There will be juices after a while; continue to stir while it comes to a low boil and the juices begin to evaporate.
  2. Add in coconut sugar. I added one tablespoon per cup of fruit and it’s still pretty tart. If you want it sweeter, add more.
  3. Once the sauce is the consistency you like (I like it not too thick, but not runny), transfer some of the compote (especially the beets) to a blender and quickly blend to chop up the beets. Add back to saucepan and stir to combine.

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How to use:

  • Serve over pancakes, waffles, cereal, toast.
  • Swirl into yogurt, ice cream.
  • Fill crepes, jam bars, thumbprint cookies.
  • Spread on sweet and savory sandwiches.
  • Can be used as a sauce for baked chicken or fish.
  • Shown here stirred into full-fat coconut milk for a yogurt-style snack.

Tips:

  • If your compote is still pretty tart, serve it with fatty, sweet components to mute it down a bit.
  • I like to eat it with plain coconut milk because the heavy, creamy mixture supports VATA balance.
  • If you are feeling KAPHA or PITTA, you might enjoy it with a bit of ice cream.
  • You can make a compote out of any fruit. Fruits that are more ripe and sweet likely won’t need an added sweetener.
  • You can blend it smooth if desired.

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world gone wellness

Are we still spending all our money to fill a void?

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Let me begin by saying I am totally of this world; totally of the world of ancient ayurvedic adaptogenic herbs and the food-as-medicine / listen-to-your-body mantra-touting alternative subculture.  I drink the koolaid just to see if it will have a positive effect.  But I’m also totally relieved by articles like this one in Man Repeller, and this one in the New York Times.  They bring the “spiritually transcendent” and “pure” wellness initiatives under the microscope, much like I’ve always done with religious tradition and what I call “old school-ism” (i.e. doing something just because it’s always been done).  I’m in a stage of my life where I am nothing if not searching searching searching; for the right career, for the right city, for the best fuel for my body, for happiness and adventure.  Part of that searching includes health and wellness, and as I’ve always tapped into the new and up-and-coming and trending health scene in the way that some people know what’s coming down the runway before NYFW.  It’s classic VATA nature to always be searching, going where the wind blows, evaluating and re-evaluating and moving on to the next thing.  I like it; it’s fun and ever-new and matches my eternal desire to not be bored.  But it’s totally possible to be unhealthy in it.  Unhealthy in health?  Yes ma’am.

While it’s true that foods / herbs have qualities in their own respects that affect us in some way, the aspiration towards elite foods and lifestyles can be more damaging than not eating organic.

If we’re breaking the bank for seven jars of powdered mushrooms to make a morning herbal latte, there’s less money for spinach and avocados and pastured eggs to really fill us up.  If we’re untouchable because we can’t go out for brunch with friends, does it really matter how pure our systems are?  Summer at SheLivesWholly.com talks about how soul food is more important than actual food, and I totally agree with her.  I mean, I’d rather eat vegetables at brunch than chicken & waffles, but I’d rather eat meat and pastries with friends than eat vegetables at home alone.

The health scene has been blamed for being another eating disorder in disguise.  We are totally capable of using wellness regimes and a desperate search for self to control or numb out, much like we might use partying to escape our woes.  But more than anything, I can’t get beyond the use of healing and powerful plants in pure capitalism schemes.  It’s one thing to deal herbs in a small shop stall, or hawk vegetables at the farmers market.  But paying for your mansion by selling juices and magic potions with daring promises?  Seems a little fish-hooky to me.  But then I’ve always had a particular hostility toward consumerism.

I have fallen in love with wellness and living a lifestyle that suits me best many times over in my life.  And some of those times have been to numb out or try to grasp at any last tempting branches as I tumbled over the edge of the cliff of my life.  Most of all, it fit my budget and priorities: I didn’t want to have to buy and keep buying cleaning products, clothes, body care, and expensive specialty foods to have the life of my dreams.  Freedom meant being able to come up with something entirely homemade at a fraction of the cost, flexing my creative fingers and being able to stand back and be proud of what I accomplished.  I love to support someone else’s craft if it’s entirely evident they’re sharing their love and superpowers in a product (like a handmade card or cutting board at a craft fair).  I’m still drawn into minimalist product labeling and things that offer to change my life, but every time I spot something on the Chalkboard Mag, Well + Good, GOOP or MindBodyGreen, I immediately examine the basis of my infatuation.  Those platforms SELL a lifestyle that costs money I don’t have for rewards I’ll likely only see by squinting through deeply tinted designer glasses and reciting a mantra in an effort to convince myself everything is perfect.  I’m over it.

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EIGHT WAYS TO RESIST:
Fight back against wellness-shaming and lifestyle consumerism,
for your health!

I’ve got some things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this worldly obsession, because a) I think it is entirely okay for the world to want to be well, and I don’t think it should be cast as hippie-dippy, and b) I think it can be really easy for us to shell out all our money to companies claiming to help us do just that, when in fact we’re still just trying to fill a void.
  1. DO YOU and hold fast your non-negotiables: first and foremost, trust your gut.  If you want a matcha latte, by god, have one.  If you don’t want to make space on your supplements shelf for any supplements, totally fine.  Unless you have something in hand that totally works for you and you know it, you’ll likely just find yourself in another battle of will – wondering why you’re trying to be so pure anyway… You also (hopefully) know yourself best; you know if you’re willing to pay for water, if you eat animal products, if you are capable of skipping a workout without getting off track, if you want to suffer through food intolerance.  Babe, it all matters.
  2. Don’t get sucked into fear-based wellness regimes: you are not mentally unwell because you do not meditate.  You are not unhealthy because you do not “hit the gym.”  You are not too poor to be healthy because you cannot afford a juicer.  You do not need Beauty Dust to be radiant.  You do not need visible abdominal muscles to be attractive.  When you learn about what worked for someone else, take it with a grain of salt.  If you want to try it, by all means…give it a go.  But this idea that we have to be all things all the time is impractical at best, and senseless beyond that.  I’m constantly telling myself, Pick one: Go for a walk, play with the dog, have a bowspring session, call a friend, cook an elaborate meal, read a book.  I cannot possibly – nor do I care to try to – fit it all in one day.
  3. Consider your budget, honestly: societies lived for centuries without juicers and Vitamixes.  I could stop there, because you probably get my point.  Basically, my fear is that many of us resign to unhealthy habits because we think we can’t afford to be healthy, because much of the media world is telling us that we can’t be healthy without fancy tools and ingredients.  The honest truth is that in our modern world of e-commerce and having our wants and needs met instantly, we are grossly unhealthy and unhappy.  If you didn’t have it when you were a kid and you got along just fine, you’ll probably be okay without it now.  iPhone included.
  4. Examine your WHY: No, self-care in and of itself is not self-indulgent.  But it’s important to check in on what self-care is really about for you.  If you require a weekly massage or an hour-long soak in an epsom salt bath every night to cope with the stress of your life, maybe you’re still not getting to the root of the issue.  Maybe it’s not that you don’t allow yourself enough personal time; maybe you hate your job or aren’t being honest about toxic relationships in your life.  Personal experience: yoga and nutrition helped sustain me during a particularly hard time, but they didn’t cure me of my woes.  I still had to make huge life changes to find some semblance of happiness and positive cell vibration.
  5. Don’t give up!  We hurt ourselves the most when we believe we are not worthy of true health.  We hurt others when we are not our best selves for them.  And being our best selves does not mean always oozing sunshine and pooping rainbows.  PLEASE.  Our best selves are loving and inspiring and supportive, and we can do all those things even if we have a bad day once in awhile, or if our sense of humor errs on the side of cynical.  We are totally worthy of love, including self-love.
  6. Adapt adapt adapt.  Life is so ungodly messy.  If it’s not you, it’s someone close to you.  Then it’s you again.  Then it’s your pet.  We’re constantly bowled over by forseen and unforseen events and research shows that the key to winning life is RESILIENCE.  This is also something I love about the teachings of Ayurveda – that where we are today is not likely where we’ll be tomorrow, and there’s always an opportunity to come back from that or to move in a different direction.  We’re never too far gone and we won’t always be in the exact right place.  We can use what we know about ourselves and a willingness to break out of any sense of rigidity in order to claw our way back.
  7. Don’t eat the same thing every day: this is a recipe for food intolerances, boredom, settling for mediocrity, OR overindulging.  No need for ice cream every day.  No need for bananas every day.  Your body wants so many things, and personally I find it hard to eat 30 different vegetables in a day, so I spread it out 🙂
  8. Do the thing that gives you warm fuzzies: this is a mental health thing, and it’s totally important.  Many health gurus eschew watching TV, but I grew up watching FRIENDS and it holds more meaning to me than a way to disengage with my current situation.  I also love to talk to my mom.  You know what your thing is.  Call upon it when you need it.

unicorn me, captain

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At the risk of this small space becoming a place where I eschew mainstream nutrition practices (oh wait, this is a kitchen for the bad kids after all…), let’s bring up another topic that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around.

On trendy food, let me be clear: I came to the dark side of avocado toast lovers frighteningly quick. I use gobs of coconut oil and make my own staple foods, and one year I ate so many bananas I literally developed a food sensitivity. I own a Vitamix, and convinced my mom she needed one, too. I’ve tried countless superfoods and techniques to make one food look like another and made things from scratch I didn’t know I was capable of (like ghee and salt). There’s a lot I’ve done to jump on the bandwagon, and sometimes the wagon is headed to a field of wildflowers. But there’s plenty I haven’t tried. If I lived in New York or even sunny LA, I might have encountered this new movement in person. Alas, I’ve only seen it floating around the insta-sphere.

Unicorn food.

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When it comes to health foods, buzz words like “whole foods”, “plant-based”, “gluten-free”, “seasonal”, “organic”, “non-GMO”, “superfoods” are oft used to describe a diet wrapped in a wholesome rainbow of wellness. I drool over well-arranged plates of colorful and bountiful harvest: plump and round tomatoes, rustic string beans, gleaming watermelon, whole-roasted carrots, fluffy red lettuce. As a home cook I often stress myself out over not being creative enough with my weeknight meals, but the truth is that I prefer easy preparation where the foods are mostly in their original form.

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That idealistic dinner table is what is known in my town as “too healthy.” But there’s another picture: elite superfoods that still come pre-packaged, which means they are sold at a higher cost and at a disconnect from the grower / producer. Think about the theory behind teaching kids to garden, which is that if they can understand what makes a carrot, they’re more likely to eat it. That’s lost with packaged superfoods. We don’t readily understand maca or moringa or chaga or even collagen. I argue that unless you’re already stretching your SAB (standard american budget) because you prioritize, or – let’s face it – are prone to grocery shopping sprees, you are not likely to purchase a $15 eight ounce bag of this unidentifiable food you’ve never heard of just to try it. We health foodie nutritionists do that because it is our passion, and because likely we’ve read research studies about and can apply the health benefits of these foods. But someone shopping the market who isn’t constantly researching how the body works (and not in a gimicky, Dr. Oz, new fangled fad sort of way) isn’t likely to enter that world unaccompanied. Thus, making it elite. Which is not to say it’s bad. I participate in this world. I love my elixirs and I do my food research and I keep up with the trends enough that things aren’t as new to me as they are to others.

If you haven’t seen the unicorn food movement, this is my take on the very basics:

  • Somewhat exotic superfoods which provide dazzlingly unfoodlike pastel coloration to a dish
  • Complex structuring of a dish with layered coloring, such as a parfait or rainbow toast
  • A moment sprinkled in magical energy

Unicorn health food vs. just plain unicorn food

  • Many a take on unicorn food showcases the vibrant (or decidedly not-so-vibrant pastel) colors found in nature. Things like beet or raspberry powder, spirulina or chlorella, and any combination thereof, bring to life a regular, black-and-white chia pudding parfait and provide a canvas for other cheerful foods like blueberries and kiwi. You won’t find additives or even dairy or gluten in any of Hippie Lane’s recipes.
  • Other interpretations have included the processed colorations of sprinkles and food coloring and more sprinkles wrapped up in chemical-laden dairy products and unidentifiable forms of sugar. And no one has capitalized on this more than Starbucks.

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I understand that not everyone is in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Some have a steady intake of dairy and even cane sugar, and just as I have looked at them sideways for not buying into the research that questions those elements as a standard in our diet, so too have I been given the side eye for losing my tastebuds to the bird food movement.

It is also true that not everyone believes in the same type of magic. For some, it’s an electrical current through our very woke, very alive nervous system. For others, maybe it’s a quieter moment of just being in control. It’s not an even playing field. There’s no rule book for the good life – no bible or scroll or stoner movie script can honestly encompass the best life for all of humankind, as perhaps our best humanity is found in our inherent individuality. It is – though, truthfully, it should not have to be so – a consequential luxury to boil in our own self-awareness and self-care until we are refined to the core of who we are, so as to add a burst of flavor to the melting pot of life. Those who live to survive; those who live at the mercy of others; those who do not know of the thrill of knowing one’s true self and serving one’s true self – they may not have an opportunity to access the earth-bound afterlife.

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That’s what I think of as “thriving”; that you can go beyond the beyond, because you have achieved earthly satisfaction. When your physical and social worlds are well-massaged and oiled up, your mental and emotional worlds can soar. And I see health as a key part of that. But it’s not the only part. The perfect foods won’t solve all our problems, but they will solve many of them, like depression and anxiety and autoimmune issues and ADHD and autism and obesity. They make healthier bodies and subsequently healthier brains and then individuals and families and communities and maybe, if we didn’t have a Big Mac-loving toupee for president, the world wouldn’t need so many bombs or seats around the news desk. But that’s another story.

Trendy superfoods are not the enemy, though.  Unicorn food: not the enemy.  Starbucks is the enemy.   Freshly-grown food – however that may be encapsulated in your diet – is the cornerstone of good health.  First, we must put these OG foods on our plates, ideally through a home-cooked meal using package-free ingredients.  Then we can worry about our superfood intake.  Superfoods are not the measure of health; they are the beyond.  We can strive toward them, but we must first ensure our access to local, seasonal foods.  Like every movement, it must start at home; in the body; in the self; and then – only then – move beyond.

monthly challenge iii: yoga is my boring place

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Twice in my life, yoga has made an outstanding impact.  I’m not a fitness geek; I’m not competitive and sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m goal-oriented.  I just mosey along and do what I like and move on when it satisfies me.  Or, more likely, when it doesn’t.  I first found yoga in college: in the free fitness center that was always under construction.  You had to walk down to the basement and through all the dudes bulking up in front of the mirror walls to get to the back corner, windowless room where you could finally – finally – get away from it all.  The instructors were fellow students, none of whom I was familiar with, so it was accessible and private.  I went to yoga every day.  I would get up in the early mornings before class to make a session that had fewer than five people.  The sequences were almost always the same, so I could simultaneously anticipate and let go.  Sometimes my best friend and roommate would be on the mat next to me.  Sometimes I’d convince a fella or two to try it out.  Mostly I just went there to be anonymous and stretch my body.

It was challenging.  I was constantly trying to contort my limbs into shapes I’d never seen before, use muscles I never felt before, sink my heart like I’d never before been asked to do.  I thought I knew what yoga was.

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My second year in Denver, a sweet coworker invited me to try out her yoga studio.  She warned me it was a little different, but I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.  That first day in a sunny studio in Golden, CO, I found myself.  I mean, I found my body.  I’d been practicing yoga for maybe five years by then, and the minute I followed the carefully articulated instructions for alignment, it was like the moment you slip on the perfect pair of pants; the moment you taste that sweet potato white bean soup and think you’ve never had something so precisely delicious before.  I parallel parked my hips and pressed my head back into my hand and something clicked within me that had never been sparked before.  It was the Bowspring.

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If you’ve heard me talk about yoga in the last few years, you undoubtedly know about the Bowspring.  I’m obsessed.  It contradicts some of the most widely taught concepts in modern yoga and, for those who have tried the technique around die hard yogis, you know it’s sort of scandalous.  Anyway, it changed my body and my life.  During one of the most grueling times of my adult life (see previous post), it provided a grounding experience and allowed me to focus on something other than the desperate girl inside of me trying to understand her life.  Everything around me was mental and driving me crazy, but Bowspring was something tangible; I could control it, I could invite it in, and it felt damn good.  Leaving my studio, which is the flagship studio for the Bowspring technique (and I do not take it lightly that I was able to study under the founders of the alignment), was one of the hardest things about leaving Denver.  I knew my relationship to Bowspring as I had come to know it was over.

The Bowspring alignment has colored nearly every other physical aspect of my life — from sitting in a chair to riding a bike to playing with the dog.  That’s what it’s meant for; to put us back into our ancient animal shape to promote lightness of being and boundless energy.  But my home practice was lacking, because it is challenging work and my self-discipline is challenged by everything I let myself get distracted by at home.  I never have enough time, I tell myself.  And then, when the postures themselves get tough, I miss having someone encourage me on.  There’s nothing like the Bowspring out West.  In fact, because people out here are so serious about their yoga, alignment is really rather strict and particular.  I found one lovely teacher in San Diego who was familiar with the Bowspring.  I was able to chat with her after taking a class and at her encouragement I decided to try a local studio in town just to get back on the mat.  Thus, the monthly challenge of yoga every damn day (or most days, at least).

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It was going okay at first.  I definitely needed a place to go in the evenings when some things were stirring up personally.  Everyone at the studio was nice and I was able to tell them I do my own thing.  They were interested in hearing more, but the minute I started explaining it their faces would fall; they were an “alignment-based” studio and I quickly felt that there was no place for “doing my own thing.”  Then I thought, Maybe I’ll try their alignment and get back to the yoga I knew before Bowspring.  I was so tight in my hamstrings, because Bowspring doesn’t to forward folds and straight knees in order to keep the desired curve in the lower back.  I didn’t particularly enjoy doing the moves or even my modifications and I didn’t find it very challenging, other than fighting the pain – yes, pain – trying to stretch out my hamstrings.  The physical practice wasn’t shaping up to be something I wanted to spend my time doing.

Then I zeroed in on something else yoga teachers are prone to do: speak very spiritually and very heady.  To push my discomfort into the background, I tried to focus on what they were offering.  During one particularly taxing yin class, I found everything that came out of the instructor’s mouth to be completely … trite.  I think there’s an important truth to be heard when we’re in that bitter space in our own minds.  When Judgmental Bre turns up the volume, I’ve been trying not to stuff her down.  I don’t enjoy being a negative person and if I share these thoughts it’s almost exclusively with my mother, who is like talking to an older, wiser version of myself in the mirror.  But I learn a lot about myself by tuning into those sour thoughts.  Particularly, I have learned some of my triggers (so they can be dealt with) and exposed things that really don’t feed my soul (so that I can move on).  This is incredibly important for me because by now we know I stayed in a job that made me incredibly unhappy for six months too long and for very few reasons that could hardly be interpreted as well-thought-out.

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So, I’m standing on my yoga mat after a sequence of sun salutations instructed entirely by the corresponding sanskrit names for each of the poses and the teacher attempts to connect with each one of us as she says something she hopes we’ll find moving.  My affect is flat, heart sunk, mind blank of all thoughts except one: This is so boring.

In that moment, I knew I didn’t have to do this.  I didn’t have to come to California for sun and fun and waste my time in a mental state like this.  They didn’t deserve that poor energy, either.  I started to wonder when yoga stopped being “my thing,” and I realized it didn’t matter.  We are constantly changing and evolving and we know this, and yet we still try to stuff ourselves into pristine little shapes.  I definitely always thought yoga was in line with my lifestyle, and who is a mindful, fit woman these days if she is not a yogi?

In a spare moment, I googled “yoga is boring” just to see what would come up.  I found tons of click bait articles about how to make yoga not boring, or how to push past the boredom into enlightenment.  Really?  If you don’t like a thing, don’t do it!  Why do we need to convince ourselves it’s worth doing?  The thing that annoys me about the wellness industry these days is that they forget that everyone is an individual collection of energy and cellular activity.  Meditation is not for everyone, although it brings satisfying results to many.  Giant green smoothies, magic elixir dusts, warm lemon water in the morning, raw food, whatever this week’s trend is DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FOR YOU.  I like to try a thing, evaluate it, decide whether or not it’s worth my time, and either explore it some more or ditch it outright.  I don’t love meditation, and I don’t love yoga.  There; I’ve come clean.

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I still love the Bowspring, though, and if I truly desire to have it and all it’s personal benefits in my life, I’ll find a way to make it work.  I also love walking, and riding my bike, and crawling around on the floor with the pup.  I like going upside down and doing back bends and, most of all, eating food that makes me feel good.  Somewhere out there, yoga is someone’s self-care.  It’s okay that I’d rather talk to the dog, or my mom, or myself.

eat responsibly for all mankind

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Prepping for breakfast/dessert

My philosophy around food and eating has probably changed as many times as I’ve been asked the question.  I really think that is okay.  We are constantly learning and educating ourselves, testing out our theories, finding out what is practical and sustainable, and what we are willing to make sacrifices for.  Below is what I submitted in an assignment for the Academy.  It’s an overarching theme rather than a strict yes-this no-that.  What also follows is my current interpretation of my own food philosophy.  I hope you will let me know your thoughts, what your food philosophy looks like, what you eat or don’t and why.  I am so curious!

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The components of a typical meal

Eat responsibly for all mankind.
Honor your privilege of choice. Choose foods with a positive impact on the planet and humanity; it is an ethical imperative. If you aren’t growing your food, someone in the world is. Make sure that someone is compensated fairly so they can afford their share of the crop.   Make sure your food practices do not compromise vulnerable communities around the world. Source, production, packaging, shipping, distribution, and price all have an affect on the overall health of the world and humanity. When in doubt, stay local and small and purposeful.

Eat foods found in their most natural form. 
Eat like a hunter/gatherer: from the earth, hand-processed, nutrient-dense, seasonal, wild and naturally grown, homemade, grateful and without waste. Know the source.

Eat intuitively. Look to the planet for healing.
Eat to fuel your body and brain. Eat what feels and tastes good, makes you groove and laugh and find your creative niche. Don’t be fooled by tricks and trends. Eat what you would make for yourself. Don’t eat the same thing every day. Eat sweet and savory and succulent and smart. Above all else, let the earth be your healer and guide. Nature already has what you need to survive.

Eat for best health.
Eat the right foods for your body so that you feel good in your skin. Eat because you get to, not because you have to. Keep an open mind and try various styles of eating to find what works best for you. When you fuel your body with the proper nutrients, you gain a certain zest for life, and in turn make yourself a better companion for your loved ones. You don’t have to be the grumpy one whose mind is always “elsewhere.” You can be present in your life and full of vibrancy.

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I was baking.  No refined sugar or flour in sight!

I wish we could talk about our diets in terms of what we DO eat, not just what we don’t.  But that doesn’t always give the whole picture, as you might tell from my philosophy.  Although I’d love to give the long list of wonderful, healing, and delicious foods I eat, it’s probably more clear if I note foods I avoid.  I’ll do a bit of both just for clarification.

Nay

  • Meat, fish
  • Dairy (all animal milk and byproducts, including sheep/goat cheese, etc)
  • White sugar and flours, gluten
  • Processed food: things with refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, vegetable/canola/corn oils and other modified oils.  To me, processed foods generally include anything that itself is not an ingredient  (granola bars, cereal, munchies, beverages, veggie burgers, yogurts, ice creams, etc) and also includes doctored-up almond milks, canned soups, chocolate, protein powders, etc.  All this because they almost always include preservatives, food colorings, MSG, other chemicals, GMO derived products (soy, corn), and cane sugar in all its various forms.  I am definitely one of those people that reads every. single. label. and almost never purchase packaged foods.

Maybe

If I’m dining out, it’s a bit of a different story.  I mean, at the end of the day, I’m a FOODIE, and I have needs. 😉  Because I don’t do it often (read: once every couple months), I stretch the limits and basically just avoid meat.

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We made frittata!

YAY!

  • I eat what I call “backyard eggs,” which means I get them from people I know who live in town, have small flocks of birds and let them run free in their yards, feed them vegetables, and hand pick the eggs themselves.
  • I am loving ghee, which is clarified butter with all the milk solids and lactase removed (it is not a dairy product and is a healing food; can be used like butter and other cooking fats).
  • I also love honey and it is my preferred sweetener of choice because the raw, unfiltered kind is packed with health benefits that many alternative, plant-based sweeteners are lacking.
  • I love fats (even saturated) and eat fairly low-carb.  I definitely could get more protein in my diet, and I’m working on that with things like sea vegetables and seeds and the like.
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Local honey sets us back a pretty penny, but it is SO incredibly worth it

 

follow your gut to santa barbara

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Aside from my homebrew kombucha, my first experience with fermented foods, on recollection, happened in a café basement on a crowded street in Denver. You entered through the kitchen and, upon descending the skinny staircase, found yourself exposed to the underside of fine-casual dining. (Sort of fitting, if you think about it. The secret spaces where the magic happens. If everyone knew about it, they’d be doing it themselves. There’s foodie and then there’s You put what in your mac and cheese?) It was darkish, with string lights hung about. The quarters were tight and we were instructed to bring our own knives. Greet your neighbors. We’re going to be making kimchi.

That night, I added brine to my vocabulary. I flirted with danger by not only risking my own fingers to the knife, but my neighbor’s as well. We shopped around the little “mini mart” set up with beautiful organic produce, chopped strange things with strange names (HI, JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE), salted, seduced, massaged, stuffed. Our jars now a rainbow of turning temptresses: things were beginning to g r o w. Best of all, the course was taught by a rad coworker making a career change from social work into holistic nutrition (sound familiar?) and I was surrounded by some of my favorite people making “lovers kraut” jokes. We took home our prizes and waited. Burped, and waited. The thing about ferments is that they’re growing the good stuff quickly, so mostly it becomes about flavor: you can ferment as little or as long as you want. Me, being rather impatient when not outright forgetful, I opted try to the good stuff after only a few weeks.

And I hated it.

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I thought my love affair with the probiotic underbellies was effectively over.

I was introduced to lacto-fermentation when I started my new job in California. We make some of the best sauerkraut* and pickles I’ve ever had. I didn’t even know that pickling (in vinegar) and fermenting (in saltwater AKA “brine”) yields two insanely different results, both in flavor and nutritional profile.  (Fermenting foods grows the good bacteria we’re talking about.  Soaking foods in vinegar just changes the flavor/texture.)  That, coupled with my continued admiration for kombucha, led me to the Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival.

A festival like this is grounds for hippie/foodie/nutty/nutrition-y people to congregate and get their freak on. Well, in a way. Have you ever massaged cabbage before? It’s a sort of…feeling. ANYWAY. When you bring together people who love this stuff with people who know a thing or two about this stuff, it’s merry magic and then some. I took notes, and that’s really what I came here to share. If you have questions, please let me know and I will do my best to answer/point you in the right direction!

*I haven’t had enough sauerkraut to make these claims. But it LOOKS better than any other kraut I’ve ever seen and tastes BOMB, and I made it, so there’s that.

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From left to right: water kefir (2 jars), water kefir mojito soda, assorted pickled veggies, sauerkraut, salsa

The Festival boasts a “Screamin’ Pickle” contest where folks can enter their own home-crafted ferments for a chance at the glass pickle trophy! Maybe next year I’ll enter some carrot kombucha…

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DIY pickling station: Pickling is very easy. Stuff a jar with garlic, fresh dill, and your favorite vegetables and pour over saltwater mixture. Seal. Burp. Set. Don’t forget. To “burp” your jar is to unscrew the cap slightly to let out a bit of the CO2 that’s been building and then seal it back up again. The CO2 is a good thing, so we don’t want to let it all out. We just want to prevent an explosion during the multi-day ferment process.

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Salsa demo: Ever opened that jar of salsa or hummus and felt a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue as you registered this was probably a week past enjoyable? I can’t attest for the probiotic content of those cast-offs, but you can be intentional! If you like the zing, or if you want to get more out of your raw dip, it is SO easy. Make your salsa as usual and place in a glass jar. Weigh it down with olive oil by pouring about half an inch of oil on top, seal and let set!

On weights: Weights are important in fermentation because we want the good bacteria to grow, not the bad. Oxygen in ferments leads to internal mold growth, so we also need to pack things down and release all the air bubbles. America is more familiar with the bad, because we are so intent on sterilizing our nation and ourselves that we can probably spot the signs of mold anywhere. I didn’t even know “good” bacteria existed until I was introduced to kombucha in college. Literally, I had no idea. Of course, fermentation is an ancient, ancient tradition the world over, but it’s really no surprise that many of us in developing countries have been shielded from this knowledge. I digress: You will often see kraut, kimchi, pickles kept below waterline with a piece of cabbage or something. I’ve seen drier ferments weighted and sealed with a baggie of water. Below waterline, good. Exposed, bad. Exceptions, always. BUT as a general rule.

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Kraut demo: The best way I can describe to you homemade sauerkraut vs. store-bought and ballpark versions is that it is drier. I’m convinced I don’t like most kraut because it’s just so weirdly wet. The kind we make at work can hold it’s own on a sandwich and isn’t going to leak everywhere and make everything smell rotten. All it takes is a head of cabbage and some salt. It’s brilliant with caraway seeds and a touch of sweetener. Chop up the cabbage, massage with the salt until the water starts to seep out. Stuff in a jar and burp once a day until it smells like kraut you want to eat (a week maybe).

Size matters: A helpful tip we learned from the workshop was that larger batches of kraut in larger jars yields the best result (in terms of proper CO2 buildup). Small jars let out too much CO2 when burped so it is recommended to use gallon-sized jars. I think it tastes fine in smaller jars, but again, it’s personal preference. Without the proper CO2 buildup, you may not be getting the biggest nutritional bang for your very real (though economical) buck.

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Miso hungry: In the week before the festival, I was picking over beans in the rare bulk bin at my local grocery chain. I went with the cheapie black beans because money. But the other option was pinquito beans, which apparently are only grown on about four or five farms in the whole world, right here in Lompoc and Santa Maria. So a chef from an SB restaurant that specializes in taking local cuisine and fancying it up, taught us how to ferment them into miso! I can’t say the ingredients are that easy to source (I mean, it probably just requires a trip to the Asian market) but one day I might decide to do so. Until then, I’ll take us out to dinner at Barbareño and and request every sauce on the menu infused with this stuff.

Tempeh: There wasn’t a demo on making tempeh and I still haven’t researched it myself, but there was a food station serving it made out of beans other than soy (think: garbanzo). I think that’s a nice alternative.

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Kefir: Most people know of kefir as a fermented dairy drink. Thusly, I have never tried it. The process involves kefir grains (different varieties for dairy and water) and a sugar water solution. One of the things I like best about starter grains is the intrinsic traditional value of them: they have to be passed down from somewhere. Even if we purchase them from a vender, they still carry with them vibrations from their former space. I have a certain nostalgia for all things with history. So kefir involves grains, and sourcing them involves knowing someone who homebrews or purchasing them through a vender (online is a good place to start). Then you can use the eventual ferment as a base for “soda” and other flavored beverages. Or drink it straight, which is basically sweet water. The dog really liked it!

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Microbiome: So what is all this about, anyway? It is my understanding that the research is on the cusp of confirming what ancient tradition has always known to be true. In San Diego, American Gut is doing research into the microbiome to discover more about how our gut health affects our overall health. We got to chat with one of the project organizers and learn about the project. What stood out most from her information was the discovery that, when studying healthy humans like athletes and such, everyone had a different make up of microbiomes in their system, and they still haven’t been able to find one recipe for gut bacteria that equals impeccable health. Everyone is made up of different microbiomes and thus our diets are going to require different specifics. But it is important to cultivate good bacteria in the gut, and one way in which we know to do this is through fermented foods. A dollop at each meal could begin to improve your mental health, energy levels, immunity, bad breath, and, of course, colon clean-outs.

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How to actually get fermented foods into your diet

Honestly, I’m still working on it myself.  Because there aren’t tons of recipes (at least not North American recipes) that already call for the fermented goods, it’s probably more of an intuitive call.  I’ve seen people enjoy kraut and kimchi in mac and cheese, so it can be done, people!   I like kraut on a sandwich.  I’d throw pickled vegetables in a wrap or spring roll.  Salsa is a no-brainer.  Beverages would be a good place to start, since you can replace unnatural beverages (soda, fruit cocktail, coffee) with a cup of kefir or kombucha.  You can also add fermented drinks into smoothies and juices and other raw recipes that might call for a liquid.  If you have tips and tricks, please share!

DISCLAIMER: All recipes are brochure handouts from SBFF posted to show source of information.  Interpretations are my own.

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I’ve been riding a high lately. Reading good books, trying new fitness classes, catching up with old friends, savoring fresh fruit, upping my saturated fat intake, saying yes to vitamin supplements, watching less dramatic TV and more Seinfeld re-runs, dreaming of the future, surviving, breathing deeply.

I have been inspired to share more on certain topics here in this space and for you all and I hope you will stay tuned for those thought-purging moments. They will include things like a recap of the fermentation festival I attended outside Santa Barbara last weekend, a guide for shopping farmers markets and avoiding the scams, monthly challenges, and other hush-hush things that are still developing. All these pieces of excitement are bursting to come out of me and I keep telling myself, Patience. Five DEEP breaths.  Besides, these posts take a good chunk of time for me to curate (in true Bre style) and I have to have some boundaries for myself!

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I must have found this photo years ago and stuck it in this music box from my grandma. It must have traveled with me from Iowa to Colorado and back. I must have unpacked it upon my arrival in California. And yet it has remained elusive to me, probably because I don’t have much necessity for a tiny music box… I must have recovered it from the back of the closet a few days ago, and upon seeing it thought, These are the founders of the Bad Kid empire. Like we would ever want to be part of an empire, but day after day I am more and more ready for the family business to begin. Look at us toothless and cookie-scarfing. We were destined for this.

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By now you’ve seen me work my way around a handful of split peas. Here they are again, boiled and blended, topped with fried green onions, dulse flakes, and a scoop of coconut oil. I’ve started to think of “well-balanced meals” as including a scoop of fat and a dollop of fermented foods. I’m still working on the ferments, but the fat proved to be a non-issue.

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Market oranges, figs, grapes, strawberries. Turmeric tonic recovery drink, again.   Dollop of coconut oil, again.

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Have you all been keeping up with Laura Miller? If not, I’ve been doing a poor job spreading the word about my girl-crush. Shoot! I’ve been eagerly awaiting her cookbook from the library (finally came yesterday!) and even convinced my boss at the deli to invest in it. Laura makes short cooking videos about raw vegan foods and that is how I first fell in love with her bouncy curls and earthy vocal tones. Now she’s created this youtube segment, Talking in Circles, which resonates with a homegirl so much! Unrequited lesbian love affair aside, I’ve been looking to people like Laura for advice on handling the big A monster. I posted this reminder in my bedroom and it’s usually one of the first things I see upon waking, when it is most vital.

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I came home from the fermentation festival to this display on the kitchen table. Jared did all the market shopping this week because I was…preoccupied…and he did a bang-up job.

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Love a good food festival, and one centered on ancient food and medicine traditions is worth the $$$$ even on a tight budget. Got to make some things, meet some people, spend a day in the sunshine, breathe into my whole being. Came home with these goodies. More on the festival in a later post.

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I offered Dante a sample of the water kefir ferment I took home from the festival. He’s always curious about the scents and functions of “people food” but rarely ever eats anything we offer him. He was all over this, though!

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This was inspired by that oat cacao shake I presented in the previous post and Meghan Telpner’s morning elixir from a video post about fat fat FAT for breakfast. I drank about a third of this before thinking, Oh, my gosh, I am so full! It sustained me until I had to convince myself to have a late lunch while I was still at work surrounded by free food. The next morning I went back to finish it and it was solid! Well…more like a very dense mousse. It lasted me another two breakfasts. If you trust my recall abilities, an actual recipe follows. Just blend. Refrigerate for thicker pudding/mousse.

1 tbsp cacao powder | 1/3 cup canned coconut milk | 1/3 cup water | 3 tbsp oats | 1 tsp maca powder | 10 cashews | 1 tbsp coconut shreds

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Sometimes, if you’re passionate about eating fresh, local foods, you have to move where those foods are abundant. Thank you to tree-ripened California oranges for bringing the citrus back to my life!

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SPRING ROLLS: My version of a “salad.” I still think it requires a lot of ingredients but it’s so fresh! Dipped in umeboshi sauce. Stuffed with the following.

Cabbage | kale | mushrooms | carrots | cucumber | oranges | red pepper | marinated + baked tofu

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We’ve remained loyal to our market strawberries, which means we went a couple weeks without when all we could find were conventionally-grown, chemical laden berries. Jared brought these home this week so you can find us hovering over the stove dipping them into melted chocolate.

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I saw a concept for a breakfast porridge using coconut instead of oatmeal and thought I might try it out.  The above result is made without egg or banana (the options provided in the original recipe) and I made mine chocolate, of course, by adding cacao powder. It is NOT for people who don’t like oatmeal because it’s mushy. I mean, I didn’t hate it. It’s just textured. That’s a dollop of peanut butter (HEY, FAT FRIEND).  Anyway, I would not necessarily call it your new breakfast staple, but I wanted to share it with you anyway so you get a good idea of the crazy things I am willing to eat even when the recipe doesn’t exactly pan out…

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Mood.

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I love to make fake out – essentially homemade meals that taste like take out. I stir-fried an assortment of veg (leftover from the spring rolls) and added a savory sauce which makes it feel more guilt-laden than it actually is. The sauce is a quick blend of soy sauce or aminos, coconut milk, rice vinegar, and about a tablespoon of arrowroot powder. Add it at the last minute just before removing the vegetables from heat. It thickens quickly.

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A quick breakfast hash with the vegetables around. Served with a fried egg and avocado. We’ve been trying out ghee lately and there is a LOT in this dish.

Potatoes | red pepper | cherry tomatoes | kale | chili powder | hot sauce

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Okay, the Academy released the first module today and I am geeking out over here because
SCHOOL
MEGHAN
COOKING VIDEOS
KITCHEN TALK
SOCIAL JUSTICE
BRIGHT COLORS
NOTE TAKING
MESSY HAIR.