lifestyle

two-step face: apothecary style

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So you wanna talk beauty?  That’s a little outside my comfort zone.  I’m not a RA RA natural beauty cheerleader, and those mantras about beauty being skin deep and on the inside get really twisted in my dark mind.  I will say: the best way I’ve found to stay glowing is to surround myself with people who love all aspects of me (especially people who think I’m funny, because I will make lots of jokes and do lots of bits and generally be my silly self), and to live in such a way that I feel I’m doing the best I can.  I like to eat well (real food and soul food), hang out by the ocean, belt my favorite songs, snuggle my favorite animals (and humans!).  I also stick to my comfort zone when it’s important for me, like what I wear and where I go.  You won’t find me in a miniskirt in a bar, because I’m probably in a sweater in the backyard with a good book and the dog.  In all this, I may not have the best hair or flawless airbrushed skin, but I can look at myself in the mirror and actually see myself.  I don’t have to avoid myself, and I don’t have to try very hard either (which is key).  

You must know: I have weird aversions.  It’s not that I don’t care about being clean (although sometimes I truly don’t), it’s that I seriously hate showering so much I’ll endure until I want to scratch my head off.  I only shower at night because I hate being cold and wet in the morning.  I only wash my face in the shower because splashing water on my face in any other context makes me cringe.  I literally tense all my muscles and try to curl up in a ball while standing.  So this process was borne out of an extreme desire to avoid doing anything unnecessarily time consuming and uncomfortable, including washing my face.  TMI TMI TMI.

I stopped wearing makeup in college, in true granola fashion. Until recently, I didn’t even own anything that could be smudged onto the facial plane to elicit effect. I bought a mineral powder a couple months ago to hopefully tone down what was a particularly tomato-bright sunburn, and I’ve worn it probably three times since (to job interviews). The point is, I got very comfortable with my naked face. Thought it wasn’t always in the “fall in love with your natural self” way; it was often out of extreme disinterest and an inability to grip why something like that might be of necessity.  (Ask me why it took me 25 years to maintain a hairstyle, and see above for why it’s an awful chore to even wash my hair.) It was one of the easiest old habits to shelve – despite being one that begins incredibly early for women as my peers and I started dabbling in grade school. Whether or not you wear makeup, maintaining healthy skin is important to look and feel our best.

So many of us who take interest in the health and presentation of ourselves (including our face!) are in pursuit of those young features: even skin tone, blemish-free, firm elasticity. I basically don’t want to be thinking about my face all day; I want it to be there, doing it’s job, not causing problems. As I also strive to be a minimal consumer of products, I wasn’t interested in hunting down this or that serum that might do the trick – with unholy chemicals to boot. So I looked where I normally would: the apothecary kitchen.

I’ve been doing step one for about four years now, and recently committed to step two (I had been using a natural lotion sporadically, and started committing to actually moisturizing my face for the past six months). It’s never felt better!

Today, my skin routine is merely two steps. It can be done morning or night, or both, or whenever it’s warranted. I don’t have to worry about over-cleaning my face, or struggling with a dry face all day if I forget to moisturize. It’s so simple and keeps me thinking on the daily, “How is my face this soft?!”

TWO-STEP FACE: APOTHECARY STYLE

What you will need:

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STEP ONE: cleanse

  • Witch Hazel → you can find organic options in your natural foods store. I have also found it in my regular grocery store’s first aid aisle.
  • Apple cider vinegar → you know the drill; it’s in EVERYTHING these days
  • Cotton balls
  • A glass jar

STEP TWO: moisturize

  • Sesame oil → when I open a new jar of tahini, I pour off the oil that gathers on top and jar it specifically for bathroom use. You can also purchase sesame oil in the grocery store; I’ve found it in the ethnic foods aisle, and you can seek out organic options if you like.
  • Bonus: natural sunscreen!

Ingredient Spotlight

WITCH HAZEL – is a natural astringent made from the bark of the witch hazel shrub. It works to tone the skin and calm hives and rashes. I use it primarily as a cleanser instead of the whole soap-and-water routine. It can remove makeup, under-eye bags, and soothe a variety of skin conditions. I also use it on my underarms and anywhere I’m worried about razor burn.

APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – is full of vitamins and minerals that fight bacteria and regulate the body’s pH levels.

SESAME OIL – has long been used in the practice of Ayurveda to promote health and balance VATA dosha (grounding, moisturizing). It can be swished in the mouth to pull out toxins and mucus buildup. In self-massage, it moisturizes and maintains health due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

How to prepare

In a small jar, mix 1:1:1 → witch hazel : apple cider vinegar : water.

How to use

  1. Remove all heavy makeup using coconut oil or other makeup remover. Light makeup (such as a light dusting of mineral powder) can be removed with the witch hazel solution.
  2. To cleanse face: dip a cotton ball in the witch hazel solution and squeeze out excess liquid. Apply to face. There will be a noticeable lift in dirt on the cotton ball. You may do this multiple times if desired until cotton ball comes clean. Dispose.
  3. To moisturize: dip a few fingers into sesame oil and rub fingers of both hands together. Distribute evenly to face and neck (if desired). A little goes a long way, but be sure to apply enough to moisturize the skin properly.
  4. Optional: if desired, mix sunscreen and sesame oil together before applying.

Other helpful tips

  • If I run out of witch hazel or ACV, I have simply used one or the other. I like them best together, but I’m also economical and lazy, so I get it. Just know that they both have tonifying effects and do the job on their own.
  • If applying oil to your face sounds counterintuitive, know this: your face (your whole body, in fact) has its own proper process for producing whatever it is your body needs, and in the correct amount. A lifetime of soaping our face and hair and skin can strip our body’s natural sensors and this process must be reestablished. Your body will regulate, and applying a sensible amount of oil to your face will not make you the grease monster. It may take days or weeks to regulate, but when you do, your skin will keep the proper moisture necessary to stay hydrated and elastic.
  • The sesame oil does have a cooking-in-an-Asian-kitchen kind of smell when you first apply it, but it tones down quickly. No one has ever commented that my face smells like food or anything… 😉
  • It’s also important to drink a lot of water to keep your skin hydrated.

 

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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.

around

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I’ve been taking to the sauna each day after work.  It’s been cold enough here (re: windy) for me to pull out my winter coat heralded from the blizzard days.  It only works because I always feel like I have a lower core body temperature than most.  (Is that physically possible?  Mildly concerning?)  We just discovered a coat closet at work stuffed up with brooms and a vacuum and one of those metal dollies, which tells you how little people don jackets here.  Okay, earlier this week it was in the 70s and I was in heaven, at the beach, glimpsing summer on the milky horizon.  Either way, I’m grateful for both kinds of days.  And I get to be now, since wretched weather isn’t the norm.  The best is pattering rainfall on my bedroom window, the one just above my plebeian floor mattress, as I fall asleep or fall awake.  Somehow the rain scatters at the thought of sunlight and gives us our time to turn our face upwards, reveling in the treasure of the nightly rainfall.  All without living in the sticky, salty tropics.  All without living in the bitter, biting midwest.  I am starting to miss the city so much; always something to do and some place new to explore.  But I know I need to be here now, to finally hear what my breath sounds like without the mask of everything I put on before.

I keep trying to carve out time in the evening for things I think should qualify as “personal time,” including book reading, loom knitting, journaling, yoga-ing.  But I always seem to end up in the kitchen.  Today I played around with charred eggplant, homemade hairspray, cookies, dog treats.  I cannot deny that that is my restoration, my meditation, my happy place.  So often we try to mold ourselves to be “better versions of ourselves” when in fact, we were at the core, living it all along.  I’m all about personal growth and challenging the self, but there’s a call for near-daily realignment with our soul; glimpsed most often in the rituals we conduct naturally.  I want to be an avid reader again, but now the pages of the most interesting story seem to fall open in the cast-iron skillet, in conversations with my brother, snuggles with the puppy, and strong cups of tea.

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Where this fails on the glamorous front, it should win breakfast awards.  I think by this point I’ve really honed in on my CHOPPED skills and started to embrace that I enjoy most what I throw together myself and end up more pleasantly surprised than I do following someone else’s recipe.  When people give their own dishes high accolades and they don’t always live up, I’m usually left thinking I could’ve done it better if I’d just followed my own creative jolts (raise your hand if you’re a narcissist!).  I do the exact same thing which is why I’ve tried to steer clear of offering up actual recipes and more just suggestions and glimpses into my meals and creative processes, since I can tell you I LOVED something but I can’t expect you’ll love it too.  As my mom always tells me, I have different tastebuds.  (And my tastebuds are the BEST!)

coconut milk | frozen strawberries | maple syrup | Dandy Blend | protein powder | pink salt –> blended to pudding consistency and refrigerated

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I’m PREEEETTTY SURE I can digest that cow’s milk butter better than those vegan legumes (I think they’re yellow split peas but not 100% sure (they were hand-me-downs)).  It’s so frustrating when you eat a whole foods diet – almost 100% plants – and you still have times when you don’t feel like your body is functioning properly.  There’s all kinds of tips and tricks to make things more digestible, but believe me, I’ve tried a ton of them and they don’t work for my lifestyle and my body.  I’m cutting out beans, legumes, and other high FODMAP foods for the month of February to see if I notice a change.  Will keep you posted.

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Look at that stack of fresh, raw veggies!  What a rainbow on a gloomy, rainy afternoon.  Sometimes I get to be such a pro at pantry-based meals that I just CRAVE fresh produce.  I’ve been eating a ton of cooked soups and stews, too, lately, so one night I up and took myself to the grocery store and put every raw vegetable in the cart that was calling my name.  Easter egg radishes, sweet peppers, zucchini squash, rainbow carrots featured next to that hummus recipe from Ottolenghi I’ve been talking about.  It’s also likely a huge source of my digestive issues this week but it was gooooooood.

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Up until last week I worked at the gym where we are currently members.  It was great at times, but mostly it wasn’t the (non-profit) political structure in which I wanted to be involved.  I’m so grateful for my time there because it really stretched me to interact with my new community, and now even when I pop in just to use the sauna it feels like an event because I have to stop and talk to EVERYONE.  Also, it’s given me some liberties that someone like me needs because otherwise I’m just too introverted and would rather stay home.  I mean, if shutting myself up in the sauna solo for thirty minutes isn’t introverted, I don’t know what is…

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On a whim, while whipping up homemade hairspray and purposefully burning eggplant, I tossed together these tahini cookies. If molasses was my flavor of Winter 2016, tahini is Spring 2017.  These are hinted with tangerine oil and a little bit of orange-y chocolate frosting.  All from scratch, of course.  Off camera, I also blended up molasses, peanut butter, and coconut oil and froze in little pucks for the wolf pup.  He hangs around our culinary adventures so often and I try to always give him a taste, but he rarely dines.  Those are a special treat just for him and he loves them!

season of gratitude

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I am grateful that I did not grow up in the way. We weren’t shooed out from under our parents’ feet in the kitchen, or shushed when singing at the top of our lungs, or anything else but encouraged when bouncing off the furniture and hurdling around the house, feet-first through the kitchen cabinets. My parents embraced the messy life of having four children: they opted for antique and rustic vibes to offset new scratches and nothing was too precious or valuable or could not survive the permanent fixture of greasy fingerprints.

We didn’t grow up too much in the way of tradition, either. And where they did exist, we learned to let them go when the time was right. It’s how I’m able to be here now, in California, set on the idea that this is the new normal. Christmas will be here this year, and we may ache to find some semblance of holiday spirit without the snow. I’ve already felt it: I will be stuffing envelopes and stamping letters at my new job, when suddenly I am overcome with holiday cheer.  Like someone in a far corner office is jingling bells, or any minute now the carolers will show up in the lobby.

My life seemingly runs on nostalgia. When the main reason I tear up at the beginning of the Gilmore Girls revival series is the collective longing for a story to continue… that, to me, is effervescence; it’s timelessness and collectivity and universal experience. The way we revel in the pseudo-friendships with our celebrity storytellers and then with each other upon realizing that everyone else is doing the same.

My world was rocked earlier this month. Maybe yours was too. That we were not as in sync as we felt. That we’re not as progressive as we see ourselves. That we still live in a world where grossly inappropriate and illegal behavior is overshadowed by unyielding competition in polarization. That our response to fear could be throwing fire on voodoo dolls. Some (Voldemort) would have us think: “There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” But I strongly believe that when our decisions are made out of fear (fear of being overtaken by foreign residents, fear of other people’s religion, fear of losing money, fear of harm, etc.), we turn our back on the good of the earth and the rest of mankind, and our actions become the opposite of good. I don’t know if it’s always evil, but it’s in the way of human progress.

There is much to be grateful for during this season of gratitude. I will never not put my family at the top of that list. Though it may look like I am leading the way, the lessons I have learned from them and the personalities they boast steer me exactly where I am supposed to go.

Believe me, I am incredibly curious what my business is here in small-town California. Why am I not taking advantage of a fancy and eclectic urban sprawl? Why am I hunting down community in the middle of nowhere? I don’t know what the plans are, but what I have discovered about this whole adventure is to not get so in the way of my own life and just live; stop holding my breath and just breathe.

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It’s decidedly somewhat of a tradition now to seek nature on Thanksgiving.  At least, it was for us the last couple years.  Now it appears there’s a movement which puts people in the way of tall, snow-capped mountains rather than mountains of things (see: Tracy Chapman).  I LOVE IT.  Below, a recap of our day exploring hot springs, wind caves, and stairway-to-heaven beachfront before cooking up an easy (two-hour prep, tops) whole foods, good clean fun dinner.  The food is at the bottom. (Sorry.)

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A (mostly) vegan + gluten-free Thanksgiving meal, clockwise from the left:

Biscuits, cornbread casserole*, sweet potato casserole, rosemary mashed potatoes, Jared’s fried turkey slices + gravy, brussels sprouts + cranberries + yams, green bean casserole topped with cornflakes

*Adapted: homemade cornbread mix, coconut milk instead of sour cream.  I also went through the trouble of cooking fresh non-GMO corn and creaming half for the recipe.  Effort was minimal.

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Not your grandma’s Thanksgiving pies:

Pecan pie filling (no corn syrup) from here.  Pumpkin pie filling (no condensed milk) from here.  On GF graham cracker crust.

These were the best Best BEST!  Esp. the pecan pie on a graham cracker crust: “accidentally” candied pecans, which look black and burned but taste like sweet bliss, held together with a sturdy, barely-there custard and stacked up against a crispy baked graham cracker crust.  You will eat this for breakfast.

Pumpkin puree instructions for making your own can be found here.  

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Jared’s leftovers; and he really did fit green bean casserole and cornbread on pieces of bread.

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.