Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Giving is good for you!

About five years ago, on a winter night, I was walking through the West Village on a way to a friend's holiday party. It was a really, really cold night, and in my usual winter posture I was walking hunched forward, shoulders scrunched up, with my head ducked down to protect myself from the frigid wind. My downward glance ended up being of great benefit to me as I stumbled upon a small fold of five $20 bills! $100! I couldn't believe it. I had found a buck before on the street, but 100? I looked around to see if it belonged to someone nearby but the street was completely desolate. Rejoicing at my good fortune, I pocketed the money and continued my walk to the party. Rather quickly, my burst of joy began to fade and something unpleasant was growing inside of me.

How could it be that I had the luck to find this money? Why couldn't someone more needy have found it?

I was not rich at the time, but I was certainly comfortable, and always had the safety net of my upper middle class parents to fall back on. It just didn't seem right to me that I, who already been so lucky in life, had this good fortune as well. It felt like too much. I instantly remembered that when I had gotten off the subway there had been a homeless person asking for change. I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I turned around and walked back.

I ended up giving the homeless man $60 and keeping $40 for myself. I am not a total martyr!

It was one of those moments that felt totally right. The burst of joy I got was so much bigger and brighter than the inital moment of happiness of finding the money in the first place.

It feels great to give. And now, new evidence is indicating that giving may be good for your health as well.

Recently, Tara Parker Pope wrote in her Well Blog about  a woman, Cami Walker, who was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. I happen to know a little bit more about this story having read another article about Cami. Basically Cami was really struggling. Her MS had left her practically unable to walk and she spiralled into a deep depression. Eventually a counselor gave her a "prescription",  it was time to stop thinking about herself, and instead she was instructed to give one thing a day, for 29 days. Cami, reluctantly gave it a shot. She ended up loving giving so much, that she did 3 or 4 more rounds of the 29 days of giving. Miraculously her symptoms started to lessen, her pain decreased and she was able to walk again.

This may seem like a micacle, but Tara Parker Pope's article goes on to site several scientific studies that have shown that when people focus on helping others, they experience physical and emotional healing. 

We are certainly in the middle of our season of giving, so if you weren't already inspired to give, do it for your health!

The other day a friend asked me for a suggestion for a healthy/cooking related gift idea, and it seemed a worthwhile topic for a blog post.

Unfortunately these suggestion come a little late for the Hanukkah readers. Though, if you are like me, gifts don't always fall on the actual day they are supposed to be received.  And for the rest of you last minute X-mas buyers, many of these are from companies that can guarantee you a Christmas delivery.

So here goes:

Give the gift of relaxation. Who doesn't want that?
Am I Dreaming Stress Kit

People love soup. I got so many great comments from the soup I posted a few weeks ago. Soups are easy to make, nutritious, and so soothing during these cold months. This is a great book for a soup lover.

Love Soup Cookbook, Anna Thomas

Give this gift a turbo boost by pairing it with a handheld blender!


How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman also makes a great cookbook gift.

A health related magazine subscription is always a nice option.

Men's Health & Women's Health are also safe bets.

My go-to gift this year is the "Backpack Tumblr" from Thermos. This thermos is unlike any other. It keeps beverages super hot (like, be careful hot), has a cool flip-top lid for easy sipping access, yet when it's closed it's locked so tight that you can throw it in your bag upside down (hence the name) and it won't spill. Why is this healthy? Well now your loved one can pack up a delicious green tea to go! Or, in my case, it allows me to have my morning coffee at work, but with my fair trade coffee and organic milk. Yes, I'm a milk snob.

Then there is the gift that keeps on giving, give a loan through Kiva or make a donation to a charity in someone's name.

This is one of my favorite new discoveries, buy your loved one an assortment of yumminess from Foodzie. This site has an amazing variety of special foods and they are all exclusively sourced from small local farms and stores.

Finally, you could buy your loved one a gift certificate for a session with a Wellness Counselor.

Happy Giving!

Got some other ideas for healthy gift-giving? Post 'em!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Cool Art of The Simmer

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday I went with my family to see This is It, the Michael Jackson movie. It was one of those rare times when I went to a movie without having read or heard anything about it and had no idea what to expect.

I was blown away. As soon as the movie began, I was completely immersed in it. Half way through, I had a brief moment of self-awareness, and I found that I was sitting forward in my seat, lips parted in a loose smile and eyes wide with wonder.

In addition to seeing Michael Jackson in a totally different light, I left the theater in high spirits and with an unstoppable desire to dance. Owww.

In one of my favorite parts of the film, Michael is rehearsing and, in a moment of inspired clarity, halts the band that is backing him up and scolds them for moving too fast. "You have to let it simmer," he instructs. And he is right. The band does it again, relishing a few moments longer in the beats before letting the song break away.

Let it simmer.

It's a great mantra for our culture which often only puts value on moving on to what's next, and rarely on what's now. In this perpetual moving forward, we lose out on the opportunity to simmer, to marinate, to let our lives build in their flavor, complexity, and richness. 

If your life is anything like mine, time is moving along at a gallop right now. There is more to do than can ever get done. I am planning a wedding. I am building a wellness counseling practice. I am managing and caring for my home. I am counseling at-risk teenagers. These are all good things. But at times the urge to check something off my To Do list causes me to hurry, and this is when I need to invoke my inner Michael (and we all have one) and say, "Stop. You have to let it simmer."

This past Sunday I was in a bit of a tail spin about all the things I should be doing (imagine overly excited dog panting, "what's next, what's next"). Realizing that I didn't want to be supporting this frantic energy, I decided to give myself a time out and to do something slow and nourishing instead, so I made this .

This recipe is from one of my favorite blogs, Coconut & Quinoa  which is written by the head chef of Angelica's Kitchen, an amazing vegetarian restaurant in NYC.

From the second I saw this tart, I knew I needed to make it, and I am so glad I did. It was absolutely delicious and it's the perfect thing to serve if your are hosting a holiday party (or need to bring a dish elsewhere). It's really easy to make (though does take a bit of time), looks phenomenal (I assure you, your guests will be most impressed), plus, it's served at room temperature so you can make it well ahead of time.

Ok, enough blabbering, here is the recipe (wait, one more moment of blabber: You'll note that Amy's recipe calls for you to make an oatmeal crust from scratch. I ended up using a frozen organic whole wheat crust. I guess I can only simmer so long. You can find the recipe for homemade crust on Amy's site):

Roast Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tart w/ Arugula

2 large red onions, sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 large butternut or red kuri squash, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, peeled and seeded
fresh black pepper
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/4 pound fresh goat cheese
arugula to serve

Ready-made whole wheat pie crust
or Homemade

Place onions and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a wide skillet or frying pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring every few minutes until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and cook until caramelized, this takes a good 30 minutes, if they begin to stick turn heat down a little. Stir in a large pinch of sea salt and the balsamic vinegar, cook another few minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Peel and cut squash into 3/4 inches chunks (to peel squash - cut off ends and use a serrated peeler or knife - this can be a little challenging - I used a large knife and just cut the skin off - this method sacrifices some of the meat but it's much easier), spread squash pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drizzle with remaining olive oil, a large pinch of sea salt and pepper, toss well. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown, remove from oven and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl combine caramelized onions, roasted squash and thyme leaves.
Crumble half of the goat cheese into the bowl and gently toss. Crumble remaining goat cheese over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell, top with squash mixture and return to oven for another 20 minutes until goat cheese is golden and slightly melted. Allow to cool before serving.

Taking it IN

What are some ways you could add more simmering into your life?

For example,  B and I take a moment before eating where we hold hands and close our eyes. It's a brief pause in which we can bring our awareness into the present moment, be grateful for the food, or just have a moment of quiet. We also do this because if we didn't, we would devour the food in 2.5 seconds with out even really tasting it.

Give this ritual a try and see how it feels, or create something new. Perhaps a breathing excercise before going into work, journaling before bed, etc.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Health is Wealth

Last week's post contained lots of tips about having healthy holidays. The tips focused on portion control, loading up on veggies, etc. However, the list took for granted that you were already "healthy" to begin with.

This ended up not being the case for fiance B (or B-iance if you will) who got hit with a bad cold that reached its worst on Turkey day itself. The poor guy had to sniffle his way through the big meal.

There has been lots of talk about colds and "the flu" in the past few months. To get the immunization or not to. Should I wash my hands for the length of the Happy Birthday song or is a squirt of hand sanitizer enough? Apparently even frat houses are foregoing their beer pong games in fear of the swine.

I think that the best way to avoid sickness this holiday season is simply to keep your immune system strong. This means eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping your stress level down and getting plenty of sleep.

So, here is your in. Wellness prescription for health:

1. Sleep. 8 hours a night (I know this can be hard. I am going on 5 hours as I write this... future post coming on sleep issues).

2. De-Stress. It doesn't need to be complicated. Many people feel they don't have the time for yoga, or the discipline for meditation. Here is a simple breathing exercise you can use in stressful moments, or as a prevention tool.

Slowly inhale for the count of four (1.... 2....3....4....)
Retain the breath for the count of seven (1...2....3...4...5...6...7...)
Slowly exhale for the count of eight (1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8....) Try to make the exhale last for the full 8 counts.

Repeat 2-3 times.

Try it now.

This exercise can be done when stuck in traffic, before making a stressful phone call or as you lay in bed before you go to sleep. Your breath is a powerful tool, use it!

3. Make this soup. B's mom made it for me several months back and I knew right away that it had to be shared on the blog, I was just waiting for the perfect time. This soup is packed with immune boosting nutrients and it's super delicious and cozy.


6 cups chicken or veg. broth

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tb. minced ginger root

1 Tsp. light soy sauce

1/2 c chopped water chestnuts

1/2 c bamboo shoots

1/4 c chopped broccoli florets

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 carrot shredded

3/4 c  sliced mushrooms

1 c sliced celery

1/2 c chopped snow peas or frozen green peas

1/4 c shredded spinach (I use frozen)

1 c rice (cooked, brown or white)

3 scallions

pinch black pepper

1.  Heat 1/2 c broth in large pot over high heat.  When boiling, add onion, garlic, ginger root.  Cook 3 minutes.
2.  Add soy sauce and remaining 5 1/2c broth. Heat to boiling.
3.  Add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, broccoli, green pepper, carrot, mushrooms, celery, snow peas, spinach, cooked rice and black pepper.   Cook for 10 minutes.
4.  Garnish with scallions and serve.

This serves 6.  B's mom suggests doubling it because it freezes really well.  The main part of the recipe is the broth.  You can add or subtract vegetables to your taste.  The green vegetables lose their bright color once they are in the broth so omit them if you want a "lighter" version of the soup.  You can also add tofu to the finished product for more protein.

Enjoy and be healthy! 

Most people have little things they do when they feel a sickness coming on. What's  your go-to trick for staying healthy?


B has packaged and sent out intangible prizes to (see last post if you are confused):

Natasha Lisman, John Lisman, Mattitiyahu Zimbler, Nick Yagoda & Keisha Ames.

B says the prizes are ineffable. Report back when you receive them. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

Dear in. Wellness readers,

Please forgive my brief hiatus from posting, but I have some exciting news to share.

A little over a week ago, I got engaged! You have heard me refer to my boyfriend "B" or Brian. Well, now he is my fiance B.

It's been a very exciting week and two days, but I must admit that in the meantime I let some of my responsibilities go. The dishes piled up, the dust bunnies gathered, and the blog posts went unwritten. We were out and about relishing this fun stage of our relationship and lives.

And now I'm back. Ready to tackle our wellness.

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving.

I have a friend who each year on Thanksgiving has an eating competition with his brother. They both weigh in before and after the big meal. Whoever has gained the most weight, wins.

Now these two brothers have fast metabolisms, so they can afford to play such games. For most of us, this is not an option.

Did you know that the average American eats 4000 calories on Thanksgiving? And gains 7-10 pounds during November and December?

In our culture, celebrating the holidays has become almost entirely equated with eating.

In these past two weeks, I have been giving workshops around the city on how to have healthy holidays, and sharing tips about portion control, etc. I'll share a few of these tips towards the end of the post, but first I want to discuss how we can connect having a healthy holiday to the larger meaning of the particular holiday.

I love Thanksgiving for this reason. Despite the complex political history of the holiday, it has now become a day dedicated to Gratitude. Expressing appreciation is one of the most powerful ways you can transform your health and your life. I am a strong believer that what you focus on is what you will create. Focus on what's wrong and that's what you are going to see. Focus on what you already have,  and more abundance will surely follow.

"In our daily lives, we must see that it 
is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but the gratefulness that makes us happy." 
—Albert Clarke

How can gratitude help you to stay healthy through the holidays? Well, rather than approach this Thursday with an "I get to stuff my face" attitude, try a "I am going to celebrate all that I am thankful for and this beautiful food and my healthy body" attitude. By connecting to the larger meaning of the holiday, your food choices will naturally reflect this joy and appreciation. If we are truly stopping to give thanks for our health, we will be much less likely to eat so much that our poor digestive system goes into shock.

I'm not trying to spoil your fun. In general my feeling is that if you are normally eating well and caring for yourself, it's more than OK to go a little overboard on the holidays.  You better believe that I will be indulging in a full plate this Thursday, and I never say no to sweets. But there is celebratory indulging and then there is indulging that edges towards destructive. I am simply suggesting that you stay mindful of the big picture, and approach the holiday with a healthy attitude and a game plan.

Here are some tips that will help:

1.    Choose your indulgences. Indulging is fun and it’s important to relax and ENJOY the holidays. Pick some of your favorites and allow yourself to indulge in them. But try to compensate by skipping something else. Love egg-nog? Go ahead and have a glass just try to have a smaller portion of mashed potatoes. Etc.

2.    Salad and veggie dishes first. When creating your plate, load up on salad and veggies first then add just a small amount of meat, stuffing, etc. Limit fried or creamy appetizers, sauces, high-calorie side dishes, and desserts.

3.    Chew your food. By eating slowly and chewing your food, you get to enjoy it for longer and it helps you feel full faster. Experts say you should chew one bite 32 times! Don't worry yourself with counting, but do slow down and chew. Your food should be in almost liquid form but by the time it enters your stomach.

4.    Don't starve yourself. Many people will not eat all day on Thanksgiving so they can go to town when they sit down for the big meal. This strategy usually backfires and leads to over-indulging and eating even more calories than you would have if you just had three square meals. Eating a satisfying breakfast can ward off the temptation to overindulge later in the day.

5.    Put your hands up and walk away from the table… Many families like to sit around the table when they are done eating. This can be a lovely time for chatter and laughter, but it can lead to 2nd helpings that you aren’t even hungry for. See if your family is willing to move the party to another room away from the food.

6.    Take a walk. Walking helps you digest your food. This can also be a great way to spend time with your family that doesn’t involve eating or watching TV, etc. Create a tradition around the walk; use it as your time to reminisce about the past year. Have each family member say one thing they remember from last Thanksgiving, etc.

7.    Watch your alcohol consumption. Alcohol itself has calories, and mixing it with soda or juice adds even more. Limit these and other sweet drinks such as eggnog, and stick to a glass of wine or two. Try alternating your alcoholic beverage with a glass of seltzer.

Taking in IN:

What are you thankful for this year? Many families have a tradition of sharing their thanks at the dinner table. If you don't already do this, perhaps it's something you can suggest this year? If you don't think this will fly with your particular family, that doesn't mean you can't take a few minutes on your own to look at your life with the lens of gratitude. Once you get going, you may be surprised by how much you have to be grateful for.

Post one thing you are grateful for as a comment below!  Every person who posts will receive a surprising, intangible prize (This was my fiance, B's, idea.  Prizes will be awarded by B.).

I have gotten some questions about how to place comments. You have click on "Comments" below and follow the prompts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I don't know if you can make it out fully (this picture was taken with my phone), but there is a rainbow up there.

The other day I found myself with some extra time on my hands.  I decided to walk to my afternoon meeting rather than take the subway. Walking meant that I got to cross one of my favorite bridges in Brooklyn, the Carroll St. Bridge.

It's not the Golden Gate, I know.  The river it spans is not the Rio Grande.  It crosses the Gowanus Canal, which is an industrial waterway made infamous a while back by housing a lost whale Brooklynites nicknamed Murky.

To us New Yorkers, though, the Carroll St. Bridge is quaint and pretty. It's made of wooden slats.  Real wood! And the canal is lined with trees and dirt. Real dirt!  We even love the oil spills in the water.  They reflect, you guessed it:  rainbows.

When I walk over the bridge I am transported. I imagine that I am in a small Vermont town, on my way to the market to pick up fresh vegetables, waving hello to my neighbors who drive by in their trucks.  Life feels simpler. I feel like I can breathe easier and that there is just a little bit more room around me.

On this particular day, I was treated to a rainbow.  It was a special moment for me. I have been so busy lately and not planning enough down time for myself. The experience rejuvenated me and reminded me that we don't need to escape the city to find inspiration in nature. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to look for it and be willing to make believe just a little.

Lately I have been trying to come up with little sayings that guide people to make healthy choices, but that are easy to remember. One I really like is, "If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry". 

"Eat a rainbow" is the one I want to talk about today. I loved painting rainbows as a kid, and this is a way I get to do it as an adult, only now the canvas is my plate, and my food choices are my medium.

Color is a great guide to choosing nutrient dense food. We are talking "whole" foods here. My boyfriend was quite disappointed to learn that even though CheeseWiz was orange it was not, in fact, a healthy choice. He is also now obsessed with finding more options in the elusive "blue" category.

Here are some examples of how color can help you eat wholesome and healthy:

Red fruits and veggies contain the plant pigment lycopene which is a powerful anti-oxidant and helps the body fight against cancer, cell damage, and promotes a healthy heart.
  • Tomatoes
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Radishes
  • Etc.
Orange frutis and veggies contain carotenoids, vitamin A, and beta-carotene all of which help the body with eye and heart health and immune function.
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Oranges
  • Etc.
Green fruit and veggies contain chlorophyll. Leafy greens (like spinach and kale) contain lutein. These greens can help with eye health, cancer prevention and much more. Cruciferous greens (think broccoli and brussel sprouts) contain folate which can help prevent birth defects.
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Apples
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Etc.
Blue/Purple  fruits and veggies contain the pigment anthocyanins, also powerful anti-oxiants. Studies also show that eating blueberries can lead to increased mental function. I think I need some of those right now.
  • Blackberries
  • Egglplant
  • Figs
  • Plums
  • Etc.
White fruits and veggetables contain anthoxanthins which may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Bananas
  • Cauliflower
  • Parsnips
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Etc.
Above adapted from What Color is Your Food by Julie Garden-Robinson

Taking it IN:

See how colorful you can make your meals this week.  Can you design a meal with every color represented?

Contest alert! Send me a picture of your most colorful creation for a chance to win The Kripalu Cookbook.

To get the inspiration flowing, here is a salad that I made tonight. I think I am only missing the Blue/Purple group:

Salad: baby arugula, shredded carrots and beets, avocado, topped with fried tofu and sunflower seeds.

For the tofu: heal olive oil in a skillet, cut tofu into medium sized slices, douse with spices of your choosing (I go with whatever I grab off the shelf - tonight it was garlic, oregano and paprika), flip and coat the other side, flip again until both sides are slightly browned.

Dress lightly with olive oil and rice vinegar, salt & pepper.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Notice anything new about me?

So, In. Wellness Community (IWC), do you notice anything new about me?
IWC: Did you get a new hair cut?
IWC: Are you wearing different makeup?
Wrong again!

Give up?

I've got some new flair! You can check it out to the right of this post. I was awarded "Top Health Blogger" status by Wellsphere.

This is one of those things that sounds much more impressive than it actually is (though I did have to apply), but what it does mean is that each and every In. Wellness post will now automatically be re-posted on the Wellsphere site for thousands to read. Very exciting. Plus, I have started making B call me "America's Next Top Health Blogger" which I find very funny.

I mention this not to toot my own horn, but, as I will now be reaching a broader audience, I will be altering how I post a bit. From time to time, I may need to explain a bit more about myself and what I do.  And, while my posts will still be personal, I'll also want to take some steps to preserve my privacy and the privacy of others in my life.

So, that's that! Let's get on with this weeks post.

This past Sunday was Daylight Savings Time and I, for one, loved it.

Most mornings, I get out of bed feeling (and sort-of looking) like this kid:

But on Saturday night, I got into bed at midnight, which became 11pm, then slept until 8am which felt like 9am! I popped out of bed feeling as sprightly as a bunny.

What followed was an incredibly productive day. I exercised, went to the farmers' market, made a delicious breakfast for B & I (scrambled eggs with zucchini, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese - on top of a slice of sprouted grain bread, served with a dash of sriracha hot sauce on the side), did laundry, met with a coworker to plan our after-school program, ate dinner with B (yummy falafel he brought home from some place in Williamsburg), watched a movie, and was back in bed by 10pm.

It felt like I finally had enough time in the day.

As our bodies readjust to the time change, and our "I'll just hit the snooze button once more" instincts creep back in, it seems worthwhile to revisit some of the principles of time management.  Lest we squander our gained hour.

The secret to managing your time is about working smarter, not harder. It is about prioritizing the important things and learning to use your time effectively.

Some of us, by nature, organize and get tasks out of the way before we relax, while others of us play first and work later. It is important to know which type you are and whether your style is allowing you to have the life you really want.

Maybe you are the super-organized type but need to learn to schedule more time for relaxing and fun.

Or perhaps you are a naturally less organized person who needs to click off the TV and write that grad-school application.

Rather than beating yourself up, realize that time management is an area of your life that you can strengthen. Like a new muscle, it takes practice and repetition to make it stronger. To help you get started, here are some steps to streamline your days at work and at home.
  • Allocate time for planning and organizing. Sunday afternoons are good for this. Create a to-do list for the week. Start by just listing everything you want to accomplish during the week from grocery shopping, to painting your toenails, to calling your grandmother. Then start breaking the list down by spreading the items out over the course of your week. Remember, we usually don't get to everything on the list. Keep it manageable and put the most important things at the top.
  • Under-schedule your time: Leave time for the unexpected and for interruptions. When you estimate how long something will take, add on a third of that time.
  • Bundle like tasks together.
  • Look for hidden pockets of time - (waiting in line, subway rides, lunch breaks)
  • Practice the art of intelligent neglect: Eliminate trivial tasks.
  • Consider your biological prime time: At what time of day do you work best? Plan to do your most important work at that time.
  • Learn to say no and set boundaries around your time.
  • Where possible, ask for help and delegate.
  • In the evening, revisit your to-do list for that day and acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished. Forgive yourself if you didn't get to something. You're human. Review the next days list so that you can end your day with a clear head (this can help a lot with nighttime anxiety and sleep problems).
Make sure to examine the biggest hindrances to using time effectively: procrastinating and lacking purpose.

Procrastinating: We usually procrastinate when a task seems too daunting and complex and we feel we won’t be able to handle it. When you get that “deer in the headlights” feeling, try “chunking”: break the large task into smaller, manageable action steps and start with the first one.

Lacking purpose: We often drag our heels when we view a task as boring or uninspired. Stay connected to how even the most menial tasks help you accomplish your larger goal. I may hate the act of balancing my finances, but I love when I have saved responsibly and can go and buy some new clothes. (Confession: I really should never be buying new clothes... I have plenty... See future post on learning how to say no to yourself!)

As you strengthen your new time management muscle, be patient and play around! Good time management can be your ticket to greater satisfaction, increased effectiveness and a more peaceful and fun-filled life. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Squash inflamation, and your spaghetti

I've been having big squash cravings lately.  Winter squash are deliciously sweet and have tons of fiber, vitamin A and potassium. Squash are an anti-inflammatory food and are particularly helpful at healing the lungs. Maybe I'm craving them to purify all the lovely exhaust I breathe everyday.

I bought this spaghetti squash recently, but wasn't sure how I wanted to fix it up.

Years ago I used to live in Ft. Greene with my friends Geneve and Sarah. It was an amazing apartment. Two floors, a garden, and a basement with a washer and dryer! The kitchen was huge and had a beautiful old Garland stove. Sarah and Geneve are both great cooks, and I learned a lot from them about building meals around simple fresh ingredients. One night Geneve made me a pasta dish tossed with a sage butter sauce. It was so delicious, that I still remember it to this day! The browned butter has a wonderful nutty taste and the cooked sage turns fragrant and crispy.

I decided to try it on my spaghetti squash.

I had never cooked spaghetti squash before, but it was really easy.

Here's the recipe (from Seasonal Eating):

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)
3 T butter
1 T minced fresh sage leaves
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make several slits in the squash with a paring knife to allow steam to escape while cooking.
Bake on a baking sheet until a knife slides in easily about 75 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.
When the butter stops foaming, add the sage and cook for about 1 minute, until butter is golden brown. Remove from heat.

Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon.
Drag a fork through the flesh to remove it strands.
Toss the strands in a bowl with the cheese and sage butter.
Add plenty of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

And... enjoy!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Feel the burn

A few weeks ago I was talking to a yoga teacher that I met by chance at a health food store. She said something to me that has stayed with me. She said, “In yoga there are the strivers and there are the coasters. The strivers bring it, each and every class. The coasters just do what they need to do to get by.”

I hate to admit this, but I have a tendency to be a coaster.  I don’t like pain!  And I don’t like doing things that I am not good at. I am blessed that I am pretty good at a number of things, so for the most part I have been able to just build my life choices around my skills. 

Recently, I have begun to challenge this pattern in my yoga practice, in my career, and in my relationship. Slowly but surely, I have been inching my way closer to the things that are hard for me.

This morning I took a Physique 57 class (Yes, I do actually work sometimes and don't just take exercise classes and go on retreats).  I have another name for this class;  I call it Torture. It is so hard. Basically it’s a series of moves that are somehow perfectly designed to isolate your muscles and tax them until they feel like they are on fire. It involves a ballet bar, a ball, loud music and an insanely fit instructor who cheers you on.  This morning’s instructor, Tanya, kept saying, “Move towards the burn - That’s where you are going to torch calories and transform your body. Move towards the burn.”
Afterwards, as I was riding home on the subway, my body feeling like jelly, I couldn’t help but see that I am feeling “the burn” in a lot of areas of my life right now. My romantic relationship pushes me to compromise and (at times) admit when I am wrong. In this past year, my career has challenged me like never before. Venturing out into the world to build my own counseling practice, I have had to learn new skills in business management, finance, and marketing.  Even writing this blog can sometimes feel uncomfortable as it forces me to put myself “out there.”  I am experimenting with striving.

When faced with these challenges, my first instinct is to run in the other direction. I want to go back to when life was comfortable and predictable. The challenges are painful. They bring me into uncharted inner territory, where it’s no longer a given that I will be successful.  Intuitively, though, I know I must move towards “the burn”. Just doing what I was good at worked for a while, but it’s not enough anymore.  I want to see how far I can really go in life. As a teacher once said to me, “This is actually your life. It’s not a dress rehearsal.” 

I strive.

Taking it in:

Where is the burn in your life right now? Are you moving towards it or running away? What would it mean in your life to really strive for something? What are the fears that come up?

Next time an uncomfortable feeling arises in your life, be it anger, fear, shame, pain, etc., see what happens if you actually just let yourself feel it, and perhaps even move towards it.

How to do this? Let's say your boss says something that offends you or makes you feel put down in some way. You feel hurt and insecure. In the past you might have started running away from this feeling pretty much immediately. You would have called your friend and started bitching about your boss. Or, maybe you would take a walk to get some air and somehow find  yourself in line at Starbucks ordering a latte and a piece of cake... 

I'm asking that you try not to do this. Instead, make the choice to face your feelings. Feel hurt. Just sit there and feel. Breathe. Acknowledge that you are hurt, angry, frustrated, etc. See what happens. In all liklihood the feeling will fade. You may still need to take an action to rectify the situation, but that action will come from a place of clarity and reality rather than fear. 

Try it today, even with something small and then post back and let us know how it went!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yoga and coconuts

I am lucky enough to have just returned from a yoga retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires (Run by Lesley Desaulniers from Prema Yoga). I spent the last four days with 14 women, meditating, doing yoga, and reflecting on ancient yogic texts and how they can help us live a more powerful and authentic life.

I feel sleepy and sore, peaceful and content.

Here are some pictures from my experience.

My hope is that through viewing them you can have your own virtual retreat experience.


"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and places to play in, where nature may heal and give strength to the soul."

-John Muir, American Environmentalist.



At the end of our last yoga session, Lesley spoke to the group about how it can be difficult to transition from a retreat experience back into everyday life. To assist us in the process she gave each of us a coconut, and the following instructions: Over the course of the next week,  kick the coconut around your home, and while doing so, silently ask, "may this house be free from..." and then insert whatever feeling or pattern you want to let go of.


"May this house be free from grief." 

"May this heart be free from judgment."


As the coconut rolls around the floor, it symbollically absorbs and holds these feelings within its shell. At weeks end we are to go to a remote area, and when we are ready, throw the coconut backwards over our heads without looking, and listen for it to crack. Once you hear the crack, you simply walk away, and never look back.

I have happily welcomed the coconut into my life for the week. Though today it is being driven around by Brian. I left it in the car when I had too much to carry in last night.  I was going to go and get it but my car had trouble starting* during the retreat, so I figured the car can use some time with the coconut as well!

So, dear readers, to complete your retreat, I would like to offer you this virtual coconut. May you let it roll through your mind, your heart and your home, allowing it to absorb that which you are ready to let go of.

*Special thanks to Harvey and Jan Zimbler who hosted me during the retreat. And to Jan who picked me up late at night when my car wouldn't start!

P.S. While I do love the sound of crickets chirping, I would love to hear your voices as well! Please  post a comment and let's create some community!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In. Wellness Dines Out

(Those of you who get this blog via email - please click on the link above to ensure the proper formatting with pictures, etc.)

Living in New York City, I am lucky to have so many incredible restaurants around me. Much of my social life revolves around going out to dinner.
Earlier this week I went with some friends to Roberta's Pizzeria in Bushwick. (

Yum! The pizzas were really thin and included interesting toppings like brined kale. One of our favorites had thinly sliced onion, guanciale (bacon) and jalapeno peppers. They have a rooftop greenhouse outside where they grow many of the vegetables they use.

We were all really hungry and ended up splitting 4 pizzas between the four of us. (They're thin, people.)

This meal is what I like to categorize as an "indulgent" meal. I go, I eat, I enjoy. I like to have indulgent meals once in a while. We only live once. I believe that enjoying food is healthy. My rule is that when I indulge, I walk out guilt free.

However, I usually go out for dinner a few times a week, and if I ate like this at each of these meals I wouldn't fit into my jeans by the end of the month. So, when I am not eating "indulgently" I try to eat "healthfully".

When I speak to friends, clients and participants at workshops, there seems to be a real need for more information about how to do this.

Here are some simple tips that I use:

1. When people eat out they tend to order an appetizer, main course, drink and dessert. Try to choose a main course (which can be an appetizer), and then just choose just 2/3 from the rest of list. Want a drink? Skip dessert.

2. Soups are a great healthy and low calorie appetizer or meal. A hearty soup can really fill you up! Cream-based soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups. Remember, just because you are ordering light doesn’t mean you should have extra servings of bread or dessert.

3. Look for items on the menu that are baked, grilled, dry-sauteed, broiled, poached, or steamed. These cooking techniques use less fat in the food preparation and are generally lower in calories.

4. Think veggie. Stay healthy by selecting items with vegetables as key ingredients, it
will ensure your meal is full of dietary fiber and nutrients. A salad is typicallya good choice, but be aware that cream based dressings and toppings like cheese and croutons can add fat
and calories. The Chicken Caesar Salad can have up 48 grams of fat! That’s 75% of your recommended fat intake for the day.

5. Portion control. One of the simplest and easiest ways to make your dining out experience healthier for you, is to simply cut down on your portions. Go ahead and treat yourself to your favorites, just eat less of them. Here are some tips on how to do this:
  • Order a la carte (i.e. two enchiladas instead of three).
  • Take a slice of bread and then give the basket back to the server.
  • Ask for an extra plate with your dinner. When your food arrives, cut it into a half-portion and place it on the other plate and immediately ask for it to be wrapped up. If it looks like you don’t have enough food to fill you up, ask for a side of steamed vegetables or salad.
  • Use chopsticks. Using them slows down your pace of eating so you feel fuller while eating less.
  • If you are full and you don’t have enough on your plate to take the rest home, eliminate the temptation to keep nibbling and salt the rest of your dinner heavily or pour on the hot sauce.
6. Ask for it on the side. Restaurants often drench dishes and salads in high fat dressings and sauces. As a rule, if the sauce or dressing is cream based, ask for it on the side. Dip your fork in the sauce and then stab your food (not the other way around).

7. Alcoholic beverages can be very high in calories. Here is a sampling of some popular drinks and their calories:
a. Margarita = 450 calories
b. Mojito = 240 calories
c. Beer = 100 for a light beer up to 200/250 for darker heavier beers
d. Wine = most red and white hover around 100 calories/glass

Tip: Go ahead and have a drink, but try to alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of sparkling water with lime. This will keep you hydrated as well.

8. Calorie Price Tag. Overall, try to think of your food as having a “calorie price tag”. You wouldn’t order the filet mignon on just an average night of the week, same goes for those high calorie options, save them for a special occasion. Did you know?
  • A large cinnamon roll has over 800 calories and more than a half a stick of butter?
  • One "loaded" nacho has more than 100 calories?
  • A mocha coffee contains more than 300 calories?
  • A large fountain drink has 300 calories?
-Healthy Dining Guide, Dr. Lichten

9. Being Difficult: Many people have a hard time asking for special requests when dining out. Remember this scene from When Harry Met Sally?

But there are ways of doing it well. Try saying to your waiter, “I really hate to be difficult but I am trying to be health conscious and I would be so appreciative if the chef would make some slight modifications to help me. Would it be possible…” And then ask for whatever it is you need (no extra butter on the bun, sauce on side, substitute mustard for mayo, etc.).

10. Handling social pressures around food. There is nothing better than enjoying a good meal with friends. These days, most people’s social life is totally entwined with food. If you give up going out for dinner, you might never see your friends. Enjoying food with other people can both help and hurt us. Sometimes it keeps us accountable – you might finish that carton of ice cream if you were alone in your apt. where as you wouldn’t in front of friends. But sometimes eating with friends can harm our eating. We are more prone to break our diet for fear of being seen as difficult or picky. We may also worry that friends will feel personally judged if we opt not to share the nachos appetizer with them… Plus, studies show that we sub-consciously match our eating habits to those around us, and tend to eat more in groups then we would alone. (Herman CP, Roth DA, Polivy J., Effects of the presence of others on food intake: a normative interpretation.)

So, how do you navigate these social pressures? A good rule is to tell your friends that you want to make the dinner health conscious before you sit down with them. Letting them know ahead of time that you aren’t eating bread, or drinking alcohol will allow them to manage their own expectations of the night, and they will be more apt to support you when you sit down at the table. Plus, letting them know ahead of time increases your own accountability and makes you less likely to be tempted astray.

Taking it IN...

Spend a moment thinking about your dining out habits. What's your dining out personality?

Are you someone who obsesses over your order and it's calorie content? Perhaps to the point where you don't even enjoy your food?

Or, are you someone who eats out most nights of the week and never even thinks about it?!

Whichever personality you are, try this week to change it up. Obsessing type? Go out and order whatever you want form the menu and enjoy it. Never think about it type? Make an attempt at eating "healthfully" during one of your dining experiences. Study the menu and figure out what you think might be the healthiest option. See if you can find a way to enjoy this way of eating as well, knowing that you are caring for your body.

Want to Watch Calories When Dining Out?
By Sheila Weiss, R.D.

Healthy Dining Guide
Dr. Jo Lichten

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bliss happens: The non-pursuit of happiness

The past few days I have been thinking about what I wanted to write about for this post. I have a long list of topics I am excited to cover: how to prepare various grains, repairing your digestive system, natural remedies for sleep difficulties...... but none of them felt right for right now.

So, then I asked myself, well what are you thinking about right now in terms of your own wellness, Nora? And the answer is happiness.

This picture was sent to me by a friend.

I have long been interested in happiness. What makes a person happy? Why are some people happier than others?

I was pretty miserable in college. Just never really felt like I belonged. I would go to parties and sit there and watch everyone else letting loose and having fun. I would pretend that I didn't care and that I just considered myself above it all. And this was partly true, I did have different interests and ideas of what was fun. But at the end of the day, I couldn't escape the fact that these people were happy, and I was not.

Thankfully my 20's and now 30's have proved much more enjoyable for me, and I can say that barring a few rocky patches, I am a pretty happy person.

The past two weeks I felt especially happy, like I was sucking on a lozenge of bliss! I felt passionate and alive and like I am living the life that I want to lead.

Then suddenly, today, I woke up and just like that, the feeling was gone. In it's place were those familiar rumblings and judgments of my life... if only this... or if only that... Aargh! I hate those feelings! And the worst part is that they seem to feed on themselves, generating new criticisms and disappointments at record speed.

So today I have been trying to figure out, what makes for happiness and how do you sustain it?

About two or three weeks ago I was in Manhattan, on the phone, and ran across the street just as the light was changing. My timing was a bit off, and I narrowly escaped being run over by a taxi. It was close enough to scare me, but not so close that I suffered any post-traumatic stress.

Mostly, it left me thinking, "I don't want to die that way!" I was also flooded with thoughts and desires for wanting to see where my life would go... I remember feeling an intense desire to be a grandmother! To see future generations of me's grow, and to see what I looked like with gray hair.

I am not Buddhist, but I have been to a number of Buddhist meditations, and I know that meditation on death is very important in this tradition.

"Buddhist teachers strongly advise their students to meditate on death and impermanence, since they are powerful counter-agents to the short-sighted concern with the present situation and one's own transitory happiness."
From Chapter 10, of Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1995

Perhaps it was my nearish death experience that jolted me into those two weeks of bliss. In looking back, I do see that one thing that was different was that I was not asking my life to be different than it was. I tried to see the circumstances of my life, much like I see the weather. I may not be happy that it's raining, but I recognize that there is nothing I can do about it except get cozy with a book and cup of tea. With the weather, we accept it, and adapt ourselves to it. But when it comes to our life situations, we somehow think that our struggle and fight will do something to change it!

What I found was that in my few weeks of accepting life as it was, it opened up a space in me to feel more joyful. Instead of spending all that energy judging myself and my various life situations, I took the time to appreciate things more. Nothing had changed, and yet I was happier.

When I woke up today, I thought, "Oh no! I've lost it! I had it and now I've lost it!"

I have long had this fantasy that somehow I will just arrive at happiness and then I can coast through life from there...

I now realize that this is never going to happen. It's not going to be sunny every day, so when the rain comes, it is simply time to get cozy again.

Happiness takes work and discipline. Buddhists don't do their meditation on death once and then they're done! It's an ongoing practice. And meditate or not, we must each figure out how to remind ourselves of what is important on an everyday basis. We must learn to relish our moments of bliss, and figure out how to adapt to the rest.


Bonus: Food therapy!
New research is indicating that omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce depression! So next time you are feeling blue try eating salmon or walnuts ( walnuts also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that supports the functioning of serotonin - a chemical in the brain that is associated with mood). Happy Munching!


Check out this workshop I am conducting next week at the fabulous Fit for Life NYC!