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.