Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Green Power!

A bonus post today! Why? Because it's Spring and I was extra uplifted by seeing so many people buying dark leafy greens today at my local produce destination. Now, the place I go for all my fruits and veggies is very small, accepts cash only, and has one little old-fashioned cash register. People stand in line for an average of half an hour to get their yummy produce - but they are willing to do so because everything is non-spray, as local as possible, super fresh, and amazingly delicious! There's also a fun, lively atmosphere that keeps things interesting while you're standing patiently in line. 

Today, I was especially impressed by all the green things in people's baskets - kale, spinach, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, lettuce...it was all so beautiful :) These greens represent the fresh growth of this season. What makes it extra special is that Springtime is when our livers are most active. The body naturally wants to cleanse and rejuvenate after the Winter, and one of the best ways of helping it along is by consuming these wonderful dark leafy greens. Not only are they bursting with nutrients, but the bitter flavour of the greens stimulates and supports the liver in the detoxification process. 

Some other seasonal foods that help with liver function include asparagus, beets, dandelion greens, artichokes, and any bitter greens. Some other foods that make our livers nice and healthy include lemons, broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic, nuts, seeds, turmeric, papaya, and avocado. Some people, especially those with a sluggish liver and/or underactive stomach, do well by drinking lemon water first thing in the morning. Just take some warm, pure water and squeeze some fresh lemon juice into it - it helps you wake up too :) 

And now, here is a terrific web site that just might require bookmarking as it is so full of fabulous, reliable, and up to date information - World's Healthiest Foods. Enjoy!

Follow the Flowers

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful garden in Vancouver and feeling like I had been transported to a magnificent paradise. This time of year is the best for stepping outside and drinking in the beauty of all the newly blooming flowers and lush greenery. Everything feels suddenly alive and vibrant and breathtakingly gorgeous! Even walking around the neighbourhood is a different experience when you're surrounded by such colour and cheerful birdsong. 

There was no admission fee when I went, so hundreds of people had flocked to this same place, to admire nature and soak up the loveliness of this sunny day. I get so excited when I see people choosing to reconnect with nature and life and feel the sun on their skin rather than locking themselves indoors. It's especially enjoyable to see how children interact with their surroundings - they experience everything directly and completely in the moment rather than analyzing things and feeling separate from their environment. 

We are all part of the environment, but it is terribly easy to feel like you've been separated from it. Luckily, that is all an illusion - no matter how many office towers we build or how orange the fluorescent lights we put up, we will always be part of nature and grounded in the earth. Simply walking outside, visiting a park, doing a bit of gardening, or sprinkling some fresh herbs on our food can help to reconnect us and remind us that we are one with nature :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's Talk about Milk!

When I was little, I used to drink at least one glass of milk a day, and I always put a generous splash of the stuff in my cereal-out-of-a-box. I stopped drinking milk several years ago, especially after reading about how the cows are treated and what kind of unfortunate substances end up in the milk; however, I never thoroughly researched exactly how the pasteurization of milk effects its nutritional value. 

Why did pasteurization come about in the first place? It used to be, people would just get fresh raw milk from their local dairy farmer. Farms were small and people knew exactly where their milk was coming from. Then, the familiar story of industrialization happened. Big cities were born and new technology changed how farming was done. This is when cows started to be unnaturally confined in unhealthy environments. There is plenty of information about the ugly side of dairy farming (and industrial farming in general) out there and I won't present that here. It is important to know, however, that these conditions resulted in very poor quality, bacteria laden milk. This kind of raw milk was dirty, not healthy, and certainly should not have been consumed. Rather than addressing the conditions that resulted in such a bad product, pasteurization started to be used and has been used ever since. This low quality milk is heated at high temperatures to destroy germs and make it safer to drink - yum :)

So what is the alternative? Raw milk. Why is it controversial? Because a lot of raw milk is produced according to the same industrial model as pasteurized milk. It's dirty. The good news is that there are smaller farms popping up that are going back to the old-fashioned way of doing things. They are bringing back green pastures, jersey cows, cleanliness, and ethics. In Canada, it is illegal to sell raw milk commercially; however, you can buy a cow share and get fresh, raw milk every week. In California, you can pick up raw milk at the supermarket. 

Now, let's do a bit more of a comparison between raw and pasteurized milk to see exactly how the pasteurization process changes the milk.

Pasteurization destroys:
- phosphatase, an enzyme that helps with calcium absorption
- immunoglobulins that strengthen our immune system
- probiotic bacteria, the healthy bacteria that lives in our gut and is a fundamental part of health
- lactase producing bacteria that allows us to digest the lactose in milk
- lipase, the enzyme that digests fats
- lactoferrin, nisin, lactoperoxidase, which protect us from pathogens
- delicate proteins in the milk are denatured
- vitamins A, D, B-12 are diminished
- calcium is inhibited and phosphorus is diminished

And this is on top of starting with a poor quality product that has come from cows who have been under much stress, fed antibiotics (thus contributing to a low immune system), given hormones, fed cheap grains rather than green grass, and unnaturally confined.

So why should we care about all of this? Everything that we choose to put into our mouths contributes to who we become and what kind of world we choose to support. Eating is an intimate act - the things we consume are literally the building blocks we are made of. Also, by eating something, we are affirming and supporting the method by which this food came about. If it's an organic tomato from your local farmer, you're directly supporting and giving strength to a world in which organic tomato farmers thrive and tomatoes are full of vitality and life-force. If I eat a bowl of ice cream from the supermarket, I directly support a world in which factory farming, industrial processing, flavour creation in a laboratory, and profit over the health and rights of living creatures are all acceptable. 

Now, I certainly don't mean to lecture or judge anybody's food choices - the freedom to eat what we want is one of the delights of life. However, I think it's super important to be as informed as possible about what it is that we are choosing from. Sometimes the choice isn't even really a choice but something we've been brainwashed into doing. Food is an industry, and like many other industries and corporations it is laced with deep seeded corruption and misinformation. If anything, I hope that we can continue to think about the source of our food and consider the potential power of what we eat to deeply nourish us, heal us, and reconnect us to our life-giving Earth. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Very Special Day

Happy Earth Day! Even though every day is Earth Day, it's nice to take some time especially to appreciate, honour, and give back to the earth. It's a great day to plant something, cook a delicious meal from scratch, start composting, meditate outside, do a little earth dance - whatever makes you happy to be on this beautiful planet that continues to sustain us and nourish us :) 

Thank you to this beautiful Earth!!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bliss in a Sip!

Today was a shining reminder that Spring is most definitely in bloom, and Summer is on its way! I will have to take some pictures of all these lovely cherry blossoms - they have transformed the most ordinary of streets into magical passageways that may sweep you away to another world :)

The radiant sunshine always makes me extra thirsty, and there's nothing I crave more after a walk outdoors than coconut water. Especially if I've been walking uphill :) Coconut water not only quenches my thirst, but it also contains many wonderful nutrients and no artificial ingredients, making it far superior to regular sports drinks. It contains lots of great electrolytes, including potassium, in amounts similar to what is found in our own blood. I like being able to replenish any lost electrolytes (especially after vigorous, sweaty exercise!) with something as close to whole food as possible, and coconut water is definitely the star in this department. Unfortunately we don't have any local coconuts here, so I have been buying it in little tetra-pack containers whenever I need that extra boost. The company I chose emphasized that the packaging is made with paper from responsibly managed forests, and I really hope that they are being honest and ethical about this.

Yay for delicious and nutritious coconuts!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Adventures in Soaking

We already know that grains, legumes, and seeds of all kinds are super healthy and packed with nutrients. The interesting thing, however, is that they also come with special protective packaging that keeps them safe and keeps us from obtaining all of these nutrients. Specifically, they all contain phytic acid, which makes them hard to digest and actually functions as an ANTI-nutrient that leaches minerals from our bodies. 

It's quite beautiful to think that all these plants are super protected and waiting for just the right conditions to burst out of their shells and reach for the light, thus unlocking all of their nutrients and releasing a huge amount of energy. By creating these ideal conditions for them, we can allow them to do this easily...and then eat all of the good stuff and get all the energy for ourselves. With much gratefulness, of course :) 

The easiest initial step is to SOAK your grains, nuts, beans, lentils, and seeds. Usually you would do this overnight, in a bowl of water. The next morning they're ready to be eaten or cooked, and they will taste absolutely delicious! I soak beans or lentils almost every night, in smallish amounts so that I'm always eating fresh ones. They will cook faster after having been soaked, and they taste so different from their canned versions - much more delicious and flavourful! My favourites are black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, red lentils, kidney beans, so on and so forth :) 

Nuts are also great to soak overnight. The next day, I towel dry them (you can also dry big batches in the oven, on very low heat) and eat them the same day - they make an ideal, satisfying, highly portable snack. The taste is so pure and rich and wholesome and sweet - all the bitterness and grittiness has been washed away so you're left with something super soft, flavourful, light, and much easier to digest. My favourites are almonds and walnuts. 

I like to soak my grains in the morning, and then cook them that same evening. They are smaller and don't need quite as long of a soaking time, and this way you can decide what kind of grain will work best in your dinner dish more towards the last moment rather than having to plan way ahead of time. My favourite ones are brown rice (especially basmati), millet, and quinoa. Quinoa is actually a pseudo-seed that contains all your essential amino acids and is very high in protein. It's a fantastic choice for vegetarians. 

I was also going to talk about the next step - SPROUTING - but I think that will have to wait another post. Even soaking your nuts, legumes, and grains, which takes next to no effort, will make an enormous difference in how many nutrients you'll be able to absorb, how many nutrients won't be leached out from the body, increased digestibility, reduced cooking time, and increased deliciousness! 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Say Yes to Life :)

This weekend it was rainy enough for me to rent Yes Man, a Jim Carrey comedy that I had not really planned on ever watching, but Zooey Deschanel is in it and I love the premise, so I decided to give it a go. The picture, by the way, doesn't have too much to do with the film, but I have yet to figure out how to properly upload pics from the interweb. 

The plot is quite simple - Jim Carrey plays Carl, a divorced banker who resists taking any sort of initiative in life and does not dare to step out into the world and truly live because he doesn't believe in himself. A friend drags him along to a meeting/cult assembly in order to turn him into a Yes Man - someone who says yes to life no matter what that may bring. Carl hesitantly goes along with this whacky agreement and all sorts of shenanigans get riled up in a comedic sort of way. Zooey plays Allison, an adventurous (and fashionable) free spirit who captures Carl's sad, lonesome heart and warms it with her vibrant spirit. Ahem, yes. Summary over and out. 

While at times the plot and style of the movie are a bit incoherent and messy, overall I enjoyed it, laughed out loud, and yearned to start my own cult of Yes Peoples. It's so true that we stay within our comfort zones and close ourselves off from billions of opportunities we wake up to every single morning. I appreciated the positive message in this movie and also loved Zooey's singing (and acting, there was some of that too), she's phenomenal and hilarious. 

So think about this moment, this very moment right now...and if you're not doing what you love then run outside, jump up and down, and yell out what you really want to devote yourself to while you have the chance :) Oh, and then do it!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bring on the Animals

I wasn't planning on writing about music here, but it looks as though it will inevitably spill into this space anyways :) The album that has me super excited at the moment is Animal Collective's latest - Merriweather Post Pavilion. I have to confess I was never a huge fan before, not because I did not like their music but simply because I hadn't heard too much of it. And I prefer to go for complete albums rather than just dabbling in order to really get a sense of the artist and their musical world. 

I thought this CD would take a few listens to really appreciate, and that appreciating it might require intellectual effort of some sort. It turned out to be instantly gratifying, fun, and enjoyable as well as uniquely spontaneous and magical in sound. At times it reminds me of the spaciousness and unrushed infinity (yes, I said unrushed infinity) of Pink Floyd, but more playful and upbeat. Definitely worth a listen, it takes you away into a wonder-filled musical realm of FUN :) 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thrive Power!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Brendan Brazier speak. Being a vegan professional triathlete, author, and speaker he is quite the local celebrity in this part of Canada, obsessed as we are with optimal health, nutrition, and fitness. We're in a bit of a bubble here, and I think we're quite lucky to have so many opportunities to eat great food and exercise outdoors by the ocean, mountains, and giant trees. 

Back to Brendan - I have to say, he's surprisingly compelling and charismatic in an unexpected, soft-spoken, non-testosterone driven kind of way. He's very hardcore in his approach to diet and fitness, and he's what we might call a high achiever - finding success by using his intelligence, setting goals, being driven, and going for it with confidence and clarity of mind. I find his words and way of presenting himself quite inspiring, even though it was all very subtle, gentle, and not pushy at all. Definitely not what you would expect from a professional athlete (well, in my case I would expect shirt-ripping and explosive roaring...kind of like the Incredible Hulk). Perhaps more men should eat more vegetables to balance out masculine and feminine energy :) More dark leafy greens = world peace???

I ended up purchasing a copy of Brendan's book 'The Thrive Diet', which outlines his way of eating (it's basically a whole lifestyle, not just a temporary diet, which is definitely the way to go about it!) and features many great recipes. He eats a lot of raw, uncooked foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, healthy oils but being the smart cookie he is, he soaks, sprouts, and uses all the best preparation methods to make these vegan foods super bioavailable and well balanced. He talks a lot about stress, including the nutritional stress of eating processed, nutritionally devoid foods, and aims to lower this stress and nourish the adrenal glands through his diet. He talks about a lot of different things, including the pH of food, efficient protein digestion, the benefits of chlorophyll, and how our food choices effect the environment. 

The environmental aspect hit a chord with me. When I tried to be vegetarian some years ago, it was largely for this reason, along with concern for animal welfare. Apparently, 70% of the arable land in North America is used to grow food for animals! Our whole way of raising and feeding animals is completely absurd, and contributes more greenhouse gases than all of transportation combined, and yet here we are, consuming meat from plastic packages on a daily basis. I know this is a sensitive issue, and I would never lecture somebody on what and how to eat; however, I think it's super important that we get informed and empowered to make better choices for ourselves and for the planet. We don't have to go hardcore vegan or join a raw foods cult, just taking baby steps and incorporating more local produce, legumes, and interesting grains into our diet would be fantastic! If every person made one or two changes, ate meat a few less times per week, went for a walk after dinner instead of collapsing onto the couch, the world would be a little bit brighter :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Environment vs. Attitude

Springtime may be beautiful and deeply refreshing, but for many people it is also dreaded allergy season. Allergies have been on the rise in the last few years, and in many ways they remain quite mysterious and not completely understood. Some people never experience one single allergy in their lifetime, while others suffer for years and sometimes seem to react to every particle that enters their body. 

The most interesting thing about allergies to me is that it is not the substance that we react to that matters - the allergen is never the actual cause. Rather, it is always something deeper - an underlying imbalance, weakness, issue that is causing us to react to various substances, whatever those substances may be. This also reminds me of germ theory and Louis Pasteur's quote that "the microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything" - a quote that went directly against his life's work regarding how germs are the active agents that cause disease. And yet here we are, munching on antibiotics, washing our hands with antibacterial soap, and sterilizing every surface in our house. 

So what does this mean? We live in a complex environment that is exhibiting increasing levels of toxins, superbugs, Frankenfoods, pollutants, and soul-crushing concrete. Every illness we have, every allergic reaction, every bad feeling, every incident of experiencing stress can be easily blamed on some kind of external factor - the allergen, the germ, the rainy weather, the broken computer, the busy traffic. The interesting thing is not how many things there are to complain about, but how inconsequential they become in comparison to ourselves and our choices as to how to respond. 

How we feel, what we think, how we view the world, our paradigms, attitudes, beliefs - everything that lives INSIDE us - are the things that determine our life experience - including whether the germ passes us by on its merry way or attacks us with the strength of a cow. 

I'm not saying that we can defeat our allergies using positive thinking; however, I think they are a fascinating example of how we continue to blame external things as the causes of all our problems, when there is always a deeper underlying issue to be addressed. This issue is always within ourselves, whether it is incomplete digestion or the inability to embrace the present moment. 

One technique that is always helpful is to stop dwelling on how toxic and scary our world and our health appear to be, and to feel grateful for anything and everything. Our environment and our lives are full of infinite beauty and magic, and it is up to us to rediscover the wonder and joy that is always there in every single moment!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ode to the Ocean :)

I love walking down the pier at White Rock Beach - with every step it feels as though you are immersing yourself deeper and deeper into the vastness of the ocean. It is one of my favourite walks of all time, and it never gets repetitive. Being surrounded by such beauty, complexity, ever changing colour and texture, passionate waves or gentle, reflective stillness...no matter what the mood of the ocean may be, it is always overwhelming and dazzling in its power and gorgeousness. 

I also love how people are drawn to this place. It's like an irresistible magnet that makes us feel more alive and fills us with the pure breath of life. Visiting the ocean is incredibly refreshing and energizing, especially on a lovely Spring day like this. I find it fascinating how we flock to watery places - rivers, lakes, oceans, ponds...swimming pools - it is a timeless connection that is very enjoyable to maintain. Especially when there is a delicious gelato shop five steps away :) 

"Even the upper end of the river believes in the ocean"
~William Stafford

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy April!

April has arrived, sitting upon a somewhat rainy and turbulent throne! So far I haven't done much to celebrate, besides eating lots of warming soup and wearing numerous layers to counteract this bit of chilliness. It's a nice time to be cozy inside, looking out at the rain, knowing that sunshine and oodles of flowers are on their way.

It's also a great time to make sauerkraut! This is one of the easiest fermentation experiments I've ever tried, and it has worked every single time, leaving me to think that it is pretty much foolproof. I use a glass jar that seals out all air (most fermentation requires locking out oxygen and this prevents mold from growing), finely chopped cabbage, and unrefined sea salt. All you do is squish down a layer of cabbage, sprinkle some salt on top, squish down another cabbage layer, sprinkle more salt, and so on until the entire jar is completely full. A thick, folded outer cabbage leaf is placed on top to keep everything tightly squished down and to act as a buffer between the sauerkraut and any oxygen that somehow manages to float by. All of the salt and active cabbage squishing results in lots of wonderful juice getting released from the cabbage and allowing fermentation to happen. The juice should rise to the very top of the jar, so that all the cabbage is covered by this delicious brine.

Some people let their cabbage ferment for a month or more; however, I like to start eating it after just one week. By then it has fermented and transformed into tangy sauerkraut, but it still has some crunch to it and shows no sign of sliminess. Sauerkraut is great eaten on its own, as a kind of side dish, or it can be added to other things, such as salads. It is also great to add other foods into the mix to ferment along with the cabbage, such as grated carrots or cranberries. Experimentation is one of the most enjoyable aspects of fermentation! Just about any food can be fermented, and the results are not only tasty but also fantastic for your digestive system. Eating fermented foods is the best way to get live, friendly bacteria necessary for survival and optimal health into our bodies!