“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Put Health First

Many of us don’t realize the impact that good health has on our daily lives until we get sick. Then, it’s the only thing on our minds. We become paralyzed, unable to live our lives and accomplish our goals. It feels as if the World is passing us by. I’ve experienced this in my own life with illness. I’ve seen a headache prevent a mother from seeing her children experience something for the first time. And years of bad eating habits lead to heart disease and surgery. And the toll that stress can have on someone who is overworked or ignores their need for sleep. And the feeling of discouragement and lack of motivation from constant fatigue.

When you experience amazing health you understand it’s value. The condition of our physical health is the foundation for everything else and it shapes our mental and emotional states. To live at our best, to grow, to help others, to have a fulfilling family and social life, do our best at work, to dream and aspire to do great things requires energy, stamina, a positive outlook, a strong will and mental determination. They also require that we love ourselves first. And that begins with respecting and caring for our bodies because they are the only vehicles we have to carry out our days.

There are times, yes, where life can be busy and seem like it’s spinning out of control and the thought of our health may take the back seat. But if we make it a priority, allow it to become habit and integrate it into our lifestyle, then we don’t necessarily have to think about it; it becomes a part of us, something we are naturally. We also become less vulnerable to setbacks and recover from them more easily which makes our lives more effective, more meaningful and happier. So if you want to raise the bar in every area in your life, put your health first and watch how it elevates your World. You will be grateful for this gift that you give to yourself. And so will those whose lives you touch.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Homemade Almond Milk

For those of you that are lactose intolerant or perhaps vegan, there are lots of alternative milk products on the market that contain no dairy. Although I use dairy products, I’ve tried many different milk-like drinks over the years including rice, hemp seed, and almond milks. Many are good, but can often contain added, unnecessary ingredients or sugars that I would rather not consume on a daily basis. So to get around this, I’ve been making my own fresh almond milk at home. It’s very easy, requires only a few ingredients and can be tailored to your taste preferences. There are several variations of the recipe I am using online and can be found below along with a video to illustrate the process.

Almond Milk

1 cup shelled almonds

3 cups filtered water

¼ tsp sea salt

3 medjool dates, or other sweetener (can add more if a sweeter milk is desired)

Soak the almonds for several hours or overnight in filtered water in a glass jar in the fridge. Change the water once or twice during that time. Drain the almonds and place into a blender. Add the 3 cups of water, sea salt, and pitted dates. Blend on high for one to two minutes. Strain the milk using a fine strainer. Store the milk in an airtight container in the refrigerator and shake well before use. The leftover almond pulp can also be used as an addition to a variety of dishes or recipes including pancake or muffin batters, dips, spreads, stuffings, smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Healthy and Tasty Kale and Seaweed Salad

The other day, my yoga instructor was raving about a seaweed salad that she couldn’t make fast enough so I decided to give it a try. I’ve used seaweed in soups in the past and had seaweed salads many times before and enjoy them, but this one adds the nutritional power of kale, a leafy green that is a great source of fiber and vitamins A, C, and manganese with fair amounts of copper, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium. The arame used in this dish is a type of sea vegetable and I chose an “organic” brand to ensure quality. They are excellent sources of iodine, folate, magnesium, and vitamin K. Combine these with the abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber and monounsaturated fats found in sesame seeds and you’ve got a nutrient-dense side dish that is difficult to rival. The original recipe is found here. I made a couple of slight changes in the preparation that’s reflected in the recipe below:

Kale and Seaweed Salad

½ cup dried Arame seaweed (I used Emerald Cove Organic)

Dark sesame oil

1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced

1 bunch kale

1 Tbsp garlic, minced

Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce

1 Tbsp hulled sesame seeds

Rinse the seaweed and soak in water to soften ~5 minutes. Drain, then add one tsp sesame oil and the minced ginger. Rinse kale thoroughly in water, then chop crosswise into 1- inch pieces (should have several cups after chopping). Heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil in skillet over medium heat and add seaweed and sauté briefly. Remove from pan and add minced garlic. Add an additional Tbsp sesame oil to pan and add kale and either 2 Tbsp Bragg’s or 1 Tbsp soy sauce. Stir to combine, then cover skillet and allow kale to cook down and soften without becoming mushy, 5 - 10 minutes. Remove cover, stir gently and cook briefly to allow any excess liquid to evaporate. Add seaweed mixture to skillet and mix well. Top with hulled sesame seeds.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Leading with Passion in Communities

I believe we all have something we’re passionate about. For some it may be music or art or fashion. For others it could be baseball or skiing or yoga. The possibilities are endless, but whatever your passion, it is likely something that inspires you, that can get you up in the morning, that you devote time and energy to and that brings you happiness.

To me this combination is a recipe for success and for friends of mine this is no exception. Over thirty-four years ago, Claire and Frank Criscuolo opened Claire’s Corner Copia, a vegetarian café in New Haven, CT. Growing up with garden fresh food and delicious made-from-scratch meals was something Claire came to appreciate when she went away to college, which is one of the things that inspired her and Frank to open the restaurant. Since then, they have been committed to using the highest quality, fresh ingredients in their dishes, including lots of organic produce and baking products. Over the years, they’ve improved upon their practices by removing trans fats from their tempting baked goods and taken a proactive approach to reducing their impact on the environment by installing energy saving appliances or by using environmentally friendly disposable items.

But one of the most fundamental and significant approaches they have taken over the years has been to establish strong and meaningful relationships, not only with their employees and customers but with groups and members of the local community. They offer an Artist in Residence program that allows local artists to showcase their work in the restaurant. They’ve raised and continue to raise thousands of dollars for many local charities and organizations including Aids Project New Haven, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and All Our Kin and they provide space for organizations to display their literature to help raise awareness to these causes. You can see and hear all about this from Frank and Claire in the following video:

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself...” When you eat at Claire’s Corner Copia, you not only support a great vegetarian restaurant, you support meaningful and compassionate organizations who strive to improve the lives of individuals in the community - which is ultimately good for everyone.

Please visit Claire’s at 1000 Chapel Street in New Haven, CT. You can find more information at the website. You can also become a fan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Indulge the Soul

I am very committed to a healthy lifestyle. I exercise regularly and eat a very healthy diet that focuses on lots of veggies, fruits, lean proteins and good fats. And I can say that together, this combination helps to make me feel energetic and happy. But that’s only part of the story. To truly be happy, one must also be content from within. Our outer Worlds truly reflect the state of our inner Worlds and our health is certainly an integral component of that concept. A strong mind and body connection exists within us all. Every thought we have generates an emotion and leads to a biochemical reaction in the body that can have a positive or negative effect. As Deepak Chopra discusses in his book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind:

“…Our cells are constantly eavesdropping on our thoughts and being changed by them. A bout of depression can wreak havoc with the immune system, falling in love can boost it. Despair and hopelessness raise the risk of heart attacks and cancer, thereby shortening life. Joy and fulfillment keep us healthy and extend life. This means that the line between biology and psychology can’t really be drawn with any certainty.”

Now, with this in mind, I return to my diet. Although it is healthy and I enjoy the foods I eat, there are certain things that I love that I would simply not eat on a daily basis. Pizza, chocolate desserts, rich, fatty ice creams are a few of these. But the idea of total deprivation leaves me a bit empty. Likewise, feelings such as guilt or failure associated with eating these things seem equally as harmful as the physical consequences of eating them at all. And I believe this idea is especially important to those who are trying to lose weight.

So how do we get around this? By knowing that, on occasion, we should enjoy the things that we love and that everything can be good for us in moderation. When we allow ourselves these indulgences and fully enjoy and appreciate them, free from guilt, we feed an empty place in the soul. We replace feelings of deprivation with abundance. And we nurture our inner World, which strengthens our outer World.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Thai-Inspired Chicken Soup - With Soba Noodles

I’m such a huge fan of warm soups in the colder months. From simple broths that I sip like tea to thick, hearty stew-like versions, I have stacks of recipes and often throw together whatever I have on hand in the kitchen. They’re filling and one of my favorite ways to get plenty vegetables in the winter. And if fresh varieties are not available, I will often use frozen because their nutrients have been preserved by freezing just after harvesting. Last year, I found a recipe for a coconut-curry chicken soup in Cooking Light Magazine that has become one of my favorites. It is a Thai inspired recipe that gets a lot of heat from the curries and a bit of sweet from the coconut milk. I’ve altered the recipe a bit by using coconut oil in place of canola oil, a natural sugar referred to as sucanat (half the original amount) instead of regular white sugar, and for the original pad thai rice noodles, I substituted a variety of soba (buckwheat) noodle that is made with green tea called chasaba. The result was a warm, flavorful and satisfying soup that I’ll be making for years to come.

Coconut-Curry Chicken Soup with Soba Noodles

3.5 oz soba noodles (about 1 pre-measured serving)

½ tbsp virgin coconut oil

2 tbsp shallots, sliced thin

1 tsp red or green curry paste

.75 tsp curry powder

¼ tsp tumeric powder

¼ tsp ground coriander

1 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth, simmering

½ can light coconut milk

½ lb cooked and shredded chicken breast

¼ cup chopped scallions

½ tbsp sucanat (or other sugar)

1 tbsp fish sauce

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 handful fresh spinach leaves

¼ pound snow peas, trimmed and chopped in half

chopped and seeded hot red chiles or crushed red pepper

fresh lime wedges

Cook soba noodles in boiling water for two to three minutes, then drain and transfer to a bowl. Heat coconut oil in a heavy medium pot over medium high heat. Add shallots and sauté for a minute, then add next five ingredients. Stir and cook for one minute more. Add simmering broth to pot, bring to boil, add coconut milk, reduce heat and simmer for ~five minutes. Add chicken, sucanat, and fish sauce and simmer for two minutes. Add noodles, spinach and snow peas to pot. Cook for one minute then add cilantro and hot pepper and stir. Ladle into bowls and serve with lime. Makes 3 servings.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Maintain Health Through Proper pH

Our bodies are composed of trillions of cells that form a variety of vessels, organs, glands, fluids, muscle and structural components that must all communicate and function in a coordinated manner to maintain balance and health. Our cells use electrical gradients that regulate the environments necessary for proper protein and enzyme functions that drive processes such as the production of energy, communication and interaction between cells, growth, proliferation and housekeeping tasks such as recycling and waste removal.

In addition to salt concentrations, a major determinant that governs the cell’s electrochemical state is pH, which is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. The scale ranges from 1 to 14 with 1 being acidic 7 being neutral and 14 alkaline. Different organs, tissues and fluids function optimally under different pHs. For example the optimal pH for blood is 7.365 and for our brains is 7.1 which are both on the slightly alkaline side. Saliva, on the other hand can range between 6.0 and 7.4. Our bodies constantly strive to maintain balanced acid-alkaline states and it is ultimately determined by the foods we eat. What remains of all foods after complete digestion are residues referred to as ash. Foods that leave an alkaline ash help to alkalize the body while those that leave an acidic ash lower pH.

The most common diet-causing imbalance leads to an overly acidic environment, which is a result of unhealthy diets and lifestyles full of stress and processed foods that are low in vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins and fats. In the short term, this may not creates problems, but long-term, chronic low pH can negatively impact the function of all cells within the body and has been linked to a number of disorders and diseases including fatigue, depression, suppressed immune function, allergies, skin and gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, the drugs normally prescribed to treat some of these health issues can exacerbate the problem by creating more acid within the body. For more detailed information about how an acidic pH can lead to specific disorders and diseases, please see below for a list of references.

Proper pH levels are crucial for overall health and the best way to maintain these is with a healthy diet. However, if you suspect that your acid levels may be out of the normal, healthy range, you can have your blood pH tested by a physician or test your saliva yourself at home using litmus paper. The following list describes ways for you to regain and/or maintain normal pH levels:

1. Drink water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime or a “green” drink before meals. Although lemons and limes (and grapefruit) are citrus (acidic) fruits, they produce an alkaline “ash” or residue after digestion that alkalizes the body. One of the easiest ways to incorporate them into your routine is to drink clean, filtered water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime first thing in the morning and even 15-30 minutes before lunch and dinner. You should also drink plenty of clean, filtered water throughout the day.

There are many green drinks that can be found at natural foods markets and some grocery chains. They are concentrated vitamins, minerals and enzymes coming from one or more sources including wheat or barley grasses, algae, and/or leafy green or cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, beets, celery and kale. They come in powdered form and can be mixed preferably with clean, filtered water. A number of recipes are also available to make them fresh at home. One example is Oprah’s green drink. Blend the following ingredients in a blender until smooth or run through a juicer:

3 stalks celery

2 cucumbers

1 apple

1 chunk fresh ginger

1 cup fresh spinach

2. Eat more alkalizing vegetables and fruits. By far, the most alkalizing of the food groups are vegetables. With some exceptions such as corn, vegetables such as artichokes, beet greens, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, zucchini, green leafy and cruciferous varieties as well as fresh herbs such as parsley are all mild to strongly alkalizing to the body. Lemons, limes, grapefruit, bananas and avocados are good fruits to eat as well. Choosing much of your diet from this food group will also ensure that you’re getting plenty of fiber, which will help to eliminate waste and toxins in a timely manner. There are a number of acid-alkaline food charts online. Variations arise between charts with regard to the alkaline or acid nature of some foods from the fruit, vegetable, grain and legume groups. Most recommend a 4:1 ratio of alkaline:acid foods. Here is one example.

3. Eliminate processed foods/junk foods. Everything we’ve been told to avoid – processed foods in boxes, bags and cans and junk foods like cookies, chips, sodas, candy – all can have excessive amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats and unnecessary and harmful chemicals whose breakdown generate toxins and can lead to poor nutrient absorption in the gut and an acidic environment. Replacing these junk foods with healthier foods like fruits and vegetables will help to restore and maintain proper pH levels.

4. Soak or sprout nuts, seeds and grains. In general, nuts, grains and seeds are acidifying, however, once sprouted, they take on alkalizing properties that include more easily digestible proteins, starches and fatty acids as well as an increase in the levels of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and oxygen. If you’re interested in sprouting, I’ve made a video that demonstrates the process.

5. Eat organic as much as possible. Organic produce is free from pesticides, foreign gene products and compounds used to preserve and grow most conventionally cultivated fruits and vegetables. The soil used to grow organic plants is also more nutrient rich than soil that uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so organic produce may contain a greater nutrient content than fruits and vegetables grown using chemicals.

6. Combine foods for the most efficient digestion. The three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats, all require different environments and pH’s for their digestion. For example, proteins from meat, fish and eggs require an acid environment in the stomach. Carbohydrates initially use saliva in the mouth then the slightly alkaline environment of the small intestine to complete digestion. When eaten together, proteins and complex carbs are digested less efficiently, which means less of their potential nutrients become available to the body. In addition, these partially digested foods can ferment in the colon, creating toxins and an unhealthy environment, leading to gastrointestinal problems. Fats slow down the digestion of both proteins and carbohydrates. Here is a chart that can be used as a guideline to combining foods for the most efficient digestion and absorption.

7. Reduce stress - Anxiety and negative emotions such as anger and fear have serious detrimental consequences on our bodies that can add to the toxic environment of an acidic pH and further promote disease and aging. Deep breathing exercises, as well as yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques can all help to reduce stress by calming the mind, eliminating toxins and increasing the supply of oxygen to the body.


Andrews, Asa. 2007. Empowering Your Health: Do You Want to Get Well? Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Guerrero, Alex. 2005. In Balance for Life: Understanding and Maximizing Your Body’s pH Factor. Square One Publishing.

Meyerowitz, Steve. 2002 (7th ed.). Food Combining and Digestion: 101 Ways to Improve Digestion. Book Publishing.

Young, Robert, and Young, Shelley Redford. 2002. The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health. Warner Books.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Delicious Barley and Wild Rice Pilaf

I recently found this recipe that originated in Eating Well Magazine. It makes a barley and wild rice pilaf; a combination that I was eager to try to add more diversity to the grains in my diet. I’ve made this twice with a couple of slight modifications. I substituted hulled barley for pearled. It needs to be soaked for several hours or overnight in water, but I found that it cooks up less starchy than the pearled. The Canadian wild rice I bought in bulk from our local natural foods store had a surprising, fruity fragrance and flavor that I wasn’t expecting and went well with the pomegranate seeds and lemon zest. I also used walnuts in place of pine nuts from the original recipe and it was delicious. Almonds would be a good nut to try as well. This dish is a great source of protein and unprocessed carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Barley and Wild Rice Pilaf with Pomegranate

2 tsp coconut oil

1 med onion, finely chopped

½ cup hulled barley (rinsed, soaked in water overnight, then drained)

½ cup wild rice, rinsed

3 cups hot reduced sodium vegetable broth

1/3 cup nuts (I used walnuts)

1 cup pomegranate seeds

2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in medium saucepan and cook onion until translucent. Add barley and wild rice, stir and cook briefly. Add vegetable broth, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered until liquid is absorbed and grains are tender, ~45-50 minutes. Meanwhile, if desired, toast nuts in a dry skillet, stirring frequently until lightly browned and fragrant. Add nuts, pomegranate seeds, lemon zest and parsley to barley and wild rice. Mix well. Serve warm.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heart to Hearts

The other day I had a very long and emotional conversation with an old friend. Much of it revolved around her youngest child. Despite all of her efforts to demonstrate her love for him, he’s not speaking to her. This has her heart broken. She loves him dearly and knows he is hurt and angry over some past mistakes she’s made, but instead of letting her in he keeps pushing her away. Advice from most people is, “give it time, he’ll come around.” And of course, don’t stop loving him. She desperately wants him to love her back. I’d like to think he does, it’s just buried deep inside his anger and his own struggles. But this got me thinking about the love we send out. Sometimes we get it back from the person we give it to and sometimes we don’t. Love is not always reciprocal but that doesn’t mean it’s lost. If it’s been sent out into the universe it will come back. A shower sent from a single heart may return as raindrops from many hearts. A kind word from a stranger, a hug from a friend, some flowers from a partner, a thoughtful card in the mail or just a smile from someone. They are all gestures of love. Shakespeare said, “Love sought is good, but given unsought, is better.” When the inner self is strong, love automatically radiates and flows freely. And the more you give, the more you get. I pray for my friend and her son that they reunite one day soon and that they will share their love with one another. I know though, that, even before that day comes, her love for him will continue to be shared with us all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Holding on to the Summer Salad

The cooler weather is on its way very soon and summery salads will be on my menu less often and replaced with warmer foods like hearty soups. But before I make that transition, I thought I would share a salad I had over the weekend. It’s a composite of a number of different salads I’ve made this summer, but most closely resembles a recipe shown here which is put together with salad greens, fresh basil, mango, and grilled salmon in a cucumber yogurt vinaigrette. I’ve made a couple of changes below.

I like to refer to this guide before purchasing fish and I picked a wild, Pacific Coho salmon that is one of the safer choices listed. Instead of grilling, I pan seared the salmon in a skillet coated with coconut oil. I also added a little avocado to the salad and a simple dressing that I use often.

This salad can make a great vegetarian/vegan meal without the salmon and if I do leave it out, I will add for example, some raw or toasted walnuts. The salmon and avocado will provide lots of protein and healthy fats. The mango is a great source of fiber and antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. The baby romaine also provides high levels of vitamins A, C as well as calcium and iron. The meal was topped off with fresh figs for dessert. Very satisfying!

For the salad (serves 2):

2 small salmon fillets, cooked

2-3 cups baby salad greens (I used baby romaine lettuce)

½ cup fresh basil leaves

½ avocado, cubed

½ mango, cubed

For the dressing, I used a very simple recipe that I’ve enjoyed on so many types of salads:

1 T fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice,

1 T real maple syrup,

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Whisk juice and maple syrup and continue to whisk while drizzling in olive oil.

To assemble:

Divide the baby greens, basil leaves, avocado, and mango between two plates. Flake the salmon and arrange on salads, then drizzle with dressing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Power of a Smile

“Smile" is a beautiful song first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1955. The lyrics speak of the positive force a smile can have in the gloomiest of moments. And he was certainly on to something.

Research has shown that when we smile, the benefits are many. It triggers changes in brain biochemistry that elevate our moods. It strengthens our immune systems and lowers our blood pressure, making us healthier. And there is certainly nothing as attractive as someone with a beaming smile.

But what I find the most remarkable about this facial expression is the profound impact it can have on a recipient. I know how I feel when someone gives me a smile. I instantly feel more calm and at ease and at the same time energized. I feel a warmth in my chest and a lightness in my step. The World instantly looks better and I start to feel myself smile from the inside out. And when I smile at someone I’m passing on the street, I will almost always witness their facial muscles relax into one as well.

It’s been cited often that it takes many more muscles to frown than to smile. But one doctor concluded that more muscles are actually needed to smile but that it may require less effort.

An authentic smile is often spontaneous. It helps to break down barriers and creates a bond between people. It is a consequence of the outward flow of love through an open heart. It gives the recipient permission to share the other’s World. It signifies a generosity of spirit and a desire for peace that propagates itself and raises the energetic frequency of the Universe.

What's so wonderful about this is that we are all free to smile. It does not cost a thing. Yet every time each one of us does smile, I believe we are elevating the consciousness of humanity. And because we are all on this planet together, when we become committed to improving the lives of everyone we encounter, by default, we better our own lives.

There are many ways we can help each other, but I can’t thing of a single, more powerful, yet simple way to help achieve this goal, than with a smile.

: )