Category Archives: ancestral wisdom

HeyDahls: Detox Culture and Old-Timey Wisdom

Q: Hey girl!! I’m starting a one month clean eating / detox on Sep 30 and wondering if you have any tips / recipes to share for kapha dosha. Trying to stick to Ayurvedic diet, and would really appreciate help!! Feeling a little overwhelmed- have looked online for recipes but still would be nice to have a little guidance.


A: Heeeyyyybooooooheeeeyyyy!

I admire your determination and courage to take on a 30 day clean eating challenge.  And the shift in season, from summer to fall/winter is a great time to do take on an intentional shift in eating patterns and prepare the body for the season ahead.

Many of our ancestors share this ritual of cleansing, fasting, or detoxing during seasonal shifts into Spring or Fall. This ancestral theme of purification in anticipation of the shift provides physical and spiriutal context for how our bodies fit into nature.

It’s how they observed of a natural order of things: Kept physically balanced and strong, and perhaps even placated the gods and bargained with them for a good harvest year or safe passage into cold winter days

Very cool indeed.

Greens for the Week: Chard, Kale, Dandelion

Greens for the Week: Chard, Kale, Dandelion

A Note on Detox Culture

Can I confess something?  I’ve always been wary, even downright cynical about detox culture in the West. Perhaps because it has been co-opted by the very diet and fitness industry that is intent on keeping consumers confused and unhealthy.  

There is a lot of money to be made in playing into the unhealthy binge-purge paradigm that dominates American diet culture.  The supplement and juice companies that dominate the ‘detox’ industry, peddle their products and ultimately train people out of their intuition around healthy lifestyle.

I once participated in a 21-day detox program that a colleague ran out of the acupuncture clinic where I used to practice.  He followed a protocol created by a major supplement company in which I and fellow participants were put on a regimen of the company’s products. Boxes and boxes of capsules, chalky powders to put in shakes and smoothies… I thought to myself, ain’t nothing natural about this shit.

Sure the substances went to work on my digestive system, but I’m not sure I learned anything about how to transition back into everyday rhythms, the long haul process of healthy eating and lifestyle. So I’m glad you are doing a detox that is grounded in Ayurveda, the indigenous medical tradition from the Indian subcontinent, the sister science to yoga.

A little about Ayurveda…

Ayurveda translates to the ‘science of life’  from the original Sanskrit and examines the interplay of the three doshas – or elements- in attuning the individual to their environments and creating equilibrium, based on:

  • Climate
  • Season of the year (Spring, Summer, Winter)
  • Season of life (Childhood, Middle age, Old age)
  • And unique body constitution (Is an individual naturally more more fiery and run hot? Relaxed and more grounded? Flighty and more creative?)

10418141_839087072812852_477884917339161169_n What I love about Ayuveda is that it honors the interplay of these elements both within and outside of us.

We all have the three doshas – Kapha (water and earth), Pitta (fire), and Vatta (Air/Ether) – inside of us in varying degrees.

And based on our unique body compositions, and where we are on the earth, or our season of life, or lifestyles, one or two elements can be more dominant. And our diet and lifestyle choices can bring these elements into balance.

A little backgrounder:

Kapha: Foundation for Growth, Fertility and Stability

  • Element: Water/Earth
  • Season in Nature: Spring
  • Season of Life: Birth- Adolescence
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 1st (root) and 2nd (pelvic)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Rainy, Congested, Muddy
  • In people: Tranquil, Steady, Slow, Easy-going, Heavy;  Tend to hold onto water/bloating
    • When in balance: Good athletes (strong/steady), Generous, Tranquil
    • When out of Balance: Depressed, Lethargic, Overweight

Foods:

  • Kapha-Producing Foods: Salty, Sweet, Sour;  Comfort Foods, Heavy Carbs
  • Antidote Foods: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent; Fat Emulsifying Sprouts, Berries, dark leafy greens, bitter roots
doshas

Source: Ayurvedadosha.org

Pitta: Foundation for Power, Action, Confidence

  • Element: Fire
  • Season in Nature: Summer
  • Season of Life: Adolescence- Middle Age
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 3rd (digestive) and 4th (heart)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Hot, Dry, Oily
  • In people: Dense, Muscular, Sharp, Ambitious
    • When in balance: Good leaders, Driven, Competitive… Make shit happen
    • When out of Balance: Easily Irritable, Angry, Inflamed Skin and Digestion

Foods:

  • Pitta-Producing Foods: Hot, Spicy
  • Antidote Foods: Raw Cooling Veggies, Fruits, Dairy

Vatta: Foundation for Spiritual, Creative Growth, Inspiration

  • Element: Air, Ether
  • Season in Nature: Winter
  • Season of Life: Middle Age – Old Age
  • Corresponding chakras (energy centers): 4th (heart), 5th (throat), 6th (third eye)  7th (crown)

Qualities:

  • In nature: Cold, Dry
  • In people: Thin, Frail, Flexible
    • When in balance: Good artists, creative, spiritually connected… transcendent
    • When out of Balance: Easily anxious, Flighty, Prone to Addiction/Self destruction, Constipation and dry skin

Foods:

  • Vatta-Producing Foods: Light Carbs, Salads
  • Antidote Foods: Warming fatty protein, Grounding Soups and Stews, Root Veggies, Cooked Veggies

Wanna learn more?  Find out your doshas here.

So back to you and an Ayurvedic Detox…

If you are Kapha-dominant, think foods that are fat-emulsifying and break down excess water and phlegm. Bitter, Pungent, Astringent flavor profiles.

DARK LEAFY GREENS!  Ideally cooked for increased digestibility.  Dandelion greens are especially detoxifying.

And do keep in mind that we are entering into the season of Vatta – Fall & Winter- so you will need more warming, grounding, lubricating foods to keep you balanced and strong for the season.

Think Root Veggies… all of them. Roasted, Soups, Purees, Mashed. Enjoy! 1476438_809898185468_182393441_n And the traditional Ayurvedic ‘detox’ regimen is Panchakarma, which includes Ayurvedic massage and oil treatments, and clean diet.

From what I understand, the panchakarma cleanse prescribes an easily digestible  mono-diet of kitchari, traditional porridge made of lentils or mung beans and rice. Now, purists say that kitchari ought to be made with white rice, but I’ll always find occasions for using whole grains like brown rice. Check out my recipe.

I don’t know how strict your cleanse is, but in general, I would say to avoid inflammatory, acid-producing foods like sugars and refined carbohydrates – that includes breads, pastas, cereals, and crackers. Opt instead for *whole* grains. Magnet (1) I’ve got a formula to help you with getting in dark leafy greens and whole grains into every meal.

OH! And apples. Nature provides us apples a plenty this time of year to clean out the digestive tract. So skip the juice, and chomp into real deal freshly harvested apples- with all that gut-restoring fiber to detox naturally.

And of course… Eat. Real. Food. Now that’s old-timey.

HeyDahls!: Cholesterol and Rewriting Family History

Q: I found out this week that my cholesterol is high. It’s hereditary plus I need more exercise. Nutritionally though, I’d love some guidance. I’ve put together a good grocery list so far but I’m not sure how to handle this on the day to day. I eat at the coffee shop where I work most mornings and afternoons but I need dinner guidance. Help please.


 

A: Heya!  Thank you for your question.  I’m glad you are staying on top of your cholesterol levels- especially with a family history of it.

What’s amazing about family histories, is that we have the stories of our ancestors written into our genes.

Epigenetics is an entire field of medicine and genetic study associated with understanding the expression of those genes.  And that we can alter the expression of those genes, turning certain gene receptors on and and off, simply by lifestyle choices we make in the here and now.

We can rewrite our ancestral stories.

What I’m saying it there’s a path forward in rewriting your story. And you are already stepping into it.  How awesome is that?

Can I catch up other readers on cholesterol?

The American Heart Association explains that:

“Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. But cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats.

Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood. Plaque can break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack

They continue to explain that eating a healthy diet and getting more healthy movement into your lifestyle, is a great way to support healthy cholesterol levels.

Arterial Plaque (image from American Heart Association)

LDL & Arterial Plaque (image from American Heart Association)

You see LDL – think L for Lousy – is the ‘bad’ cholesterol that contributes to the buildup of plaque in our arteries.

HDL – think H for Happy – is the ‘good’ cholesterol breaking up excess plaque in our arteries and flushing it along its way back to the liver.

Rewriting the Story

So remember what I said our rewriting our family stories?

The choices that we make in the here and now tinker with the balance of LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol.

And healthy eating, the everyday practice of nourishing ourselves, is one of the most effective ways to effect tinker with the balance.

The AHA recommends a diet rich with dark leafy greens and unrefined, nutrient-dense sources of plant-based fiber from whole grains and beans.

Fortunately, and I think you know where this is going… I have a formula designed to help you programs dark leafy greens and grains and beans into your diet! HEY NOW!!!

Magnet (1)

Try once a week going to the farmer’s market or grocery store and buy no more than THREE dark leafy greens. Then find occasions to throw small handfuls of greens into whatever you are eating.

Maybe you even visit the bulk food aisle of health food stores like Mom’s or Whole Foods or Yes! Market and make a whole grain or bean for the week.  I also find the “International” aisles of traditional grocery stores can be a great resources in getting grains and beans in lieu of a bulk section.

Then use the formula to create meals.

What if I challenged you to use the formula to create perhaps just THREE meals this week? Three home cooked dinners?

And even you don’t make a grain or bean this week, try adding dark leafy greens to a pasta.  I’ll even add greens to leftover take out curries, stir-frys, and soups….

OH, and about them fats…

As you get your healthy meal prep rhythm, then maybe it grows into breakfast too..

Because here’s the thing.  I do love a breakfast pastry every now and again from my local coffee shop.  But often there’s no telling what kind of fats and oils they are using in those pastries, shortening or margarine or other sources of trans fats are more dangerous for cholesterol levels than saturated fats and those breakfast pastries can be chock full of them.

Do you know your fats?  Here’s a helpful guide I wrote about healthy fats, and how to use each kind of fat in a healthy cooking practice to reduce inflammation.

The AHA promotes cutting out saturated fats from your diet and doing low-fat dairy.  But saturated fats like coconut oil are heart healthy.

And low-fat, dairy can be chock full of fake sugars that increase insulin resistance, and nobody’s got time for that.

And did you ask about eggs?

Did you know runny egg yoke is quite healthy? By keeping egg yoke as runny as possible, it keeps all the heart healthy long omega-3 fatty acid chains in tact… It’s only when egg yokes over-oxidize and solidify- say in a hard boiled egg, that the cholesterol content becomes problematic.

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Poached eggs have a special place in the LD healthy eating formula. Not only do they remind me of morning playdates, but poaching eggs is hands down the healthiest way to enjoy them.

Lazy Poached Eggs is one of my favorite uses of leftovers. Crack egg over whatever veggies and grains and beans you have on hand and add a *little* water to edges, cover with lid, steam. Voila!

Stay connected with the tribe. Stay inspired.

Love love.

HeyDahls: The wonderful world of grains!

Q: A serious question here- can you recommend whole grains other than brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat? These are the three that I use all the time but I’d like some variety. Bonus if they are kid friendly- my son eats rice and buckwheat, but not quinoa.

___________________

A: Heya! Thank you for writing in!

As you know, I do love whole grains.  They are built into my formula!

Magnet (1)

Mind if I explain whole grains for a moment to catch up other readers?

Whole grains are a nutrient-dense source of plant-based fiber that promote healthy digestion – feeding healthy bacteria in our gut (who needs probiotics?) – and increase metabolic function.  And they are typically missing from the Standard American Diet (SAD) for a couple reasons.

 1) We hear the term ‘whole grain’ but don’t know what it means.

Often when I ask people what a whole grain is, a lot of folks will offer examples of ’whole grain’ products like breads and cereals.

The American public, has been trained out of their intuition around nutrition, as brought to you by General Mills, Kellogg’s… and so on.

When you think of whole grains think of actual kernels of grain that have the natural bran intact. It is the bran that holds the grain’s nutrients and fiber. This means whole grain breads and other products don’t count.

When a grain has the fiber stripped off… say in the case of white rice, that grain is essentially reduced into a simple carbohydrate that is metabolized in the body in the same way that sugar would be… increasing insulin resistance and fat storage.

14080085_10100193317656748_8806952846822293193_n

2) We’re scared of carbs.

Since the mid-90s and the Atkins Diet and a whole other host of diet trends designed to put the body in a ketogenic state to quickly lose weight, many of us think carbs are ‘bad’.

But not all carbs are created equal.

Whole grains as explained above offer an unrefined nutrient-dense source of plant-based fiber that is vital for metabolic and functional health.

Yes, grains are a carb. And no, not all carbs are bad. Seriously. So let go of that sensational mid-90s nonsense.

Our ancestors typically enjoyed diets that were 75% carbohydrate including whole grains and vegetables… Kale for instance is a carb.

Ok… back to your question..

Brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa are fine grains indeed. But it’s always important to rotate your grains, not only to keep meals for you and your family exciting, but to ensure that your body doesn’t develop sensitivities.

If we have the same grain over and over – especially refined grain products -our bodies begin to develop autoimmune responses to them, causing chronic inflammation. The influx of refined wheat products in the American diet I believe accounts for the rise of gluten-sensitivities in the U.S. Keep it fresh, keep it moving so you and your family don’t develop sensitivities.

Grain inspiration!

To start, I recommend playing with different kinds of rice, as they cook up the same way as brown rice. Think red rice and wild rice!

Sometimes just toss a grain into a salad... bonafide, hearty meal!

Sometimes just toss a grain into a salad… bonafide, hearty meal!

I also think that bulgur or cracked wheat is very kid friendly.  And cooks up quickly like quinoa. From soak, rinse, boil, to simmer, no more than 15 minutes!

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Other whole wheat grains I enjoy with frequency include farro and freekah.

Also, your family may enjoy millet, which hails from Asia and Africa!  If rice and polenta were to have a baby, it would taste like millet.

Check out this whole grain grain glossary for more inspiration on the wonderful world of grains.

When preparing grains, I recommend simmering in my go-to spice trifecta of turmeric, allspice and cinnamon.

OK! More soooooooon!

A Woman’s Work… And Care

tagine

It is said that when a woman cooks, she transmits her magic through her fingertips and into her dishes to nourish her loved ones.

It’s Women’s History Month and at Bazaar Spices, we’re honoring the women who have been custodians, the firekeepers, of the tradition of home cooking, an everyday practice in health and creativity.

When folks ask how I got into cooking, I tell a familiar story. The love affair started when I was young. From the time I was six or seven, I followed my mom and other women in my family around the kitchen. I learned their secrets through whispers and winks and hands-on practice.

Most celebrity chefs, typically men, will recall a similar experience. It started with their mothers and grandmothers who nurtured their culinary skills and creativity. And the practice took on a professional edge as they left their home kitchens and journeyed into ‘the industry’. It became an art form.

And how fascinating. How we place value on work, particularly work in the kitchen, based on gender and sphere. That is to say, domestic and professional spheres.

When a man takes on a culinary practice, his work is art – an extension of his creative power and bravado even.

When a woman cooks, it is typically part of the conscripted, unpaid care economy. And often a thankless task.

It is no wonder that so many women I meet in my nutrition work have a conflicted, estranged relationship with the art of home cooking.

Many of us grow up watching our mothers toiling away in the kitchen, even if they just came home from a full day’s work, to have their work at home taken for granted. Many of us had promised ourselves at a young age that we, and our work, will not be taken for granted.

And for that reason perhaps, so many women grow up resenting or not knowing how to cook.

So by the time many of us are trying to ‘get healthy’ and make the ‘right’ food choices, we’re missing perhaps the most valuable tool in order to do that.

Cooking is such a critical component of self-care and health. As Shereen Malak, one of my mentors in Cairo says, when we take responsibility for sourcing and preparing our food, we begin to take responsibility for all sorts of things in our lives.

Home cooking is a healing medium of care, for oneself, and yes, those lucky enough to be around us. It’s an everyday practice in creativity, nourishment, and magic.

So what if this month, we as women resolve to celebrate the culinary traditions of home, honoring them as the ultimate practice of self-care. What if we resolve to make ourselves healthy, nourishing, exciting meals, even if it’s just us, and no one else is watching?

And let’s be honest, for many of the single women of District, it usually is ‘just’ us.

Perhaps we can use our culinary magic to nourish ourselves first and foremost… and roll our eyes at the traditional male gaze… and appetites.

And here’s the thing ladies. It’s not hard to consistently prepare healthy, exciting meals – for yourself, for your loved ones. There’s a formula. It just requires a little rhythm. A little planning. Not too much planning though. That’s no fun.

LD101_BazaarSpices

Here’s a hint… A robust spice collection is a fantastic way keep simple healthy cooking exciting and fun.

And wouldn’t you know, we just happen to be offering Live Deliciously 101, my crash course in healthy eating with Mediterranean sensibilities and formulas, this month at the new Bazaar Spices location at the Atlantic Plumbing building. Check it 

 

Mama Wagida’s Macarona Beshamel

mamawagida

My grandmother, early 1940s

Did I ever tell you about the last time I was in Egypt?  It was 2007.

I was with my mom in Alexandria.  Hanging out with my grandma – Mama Wagida – in her classical Alexandrian four bedroom apartment, the home in which my mom and her four silblings grew up just blocks from the Mediterranean.  This apartment: its history, its high ceilings and a balcony that wrapped around and offered a generous view of the Sea…   Nothing felt at once more romantic and sacred.   From that balcony, my aunt Suzie who lives there with her daughter Sara, would use the hand-drawn dumb waiter basket and pull up fresh fruit and nuts from wandering street merchants baying below.

I always enjoyed the time I spent with my grandma growing up. My parents were always so busy working that we never went back to Egypt.  Instead Mama Wagida and other relatives would come stay with us in Jersey for weeks and months at a time.

“I inherited her laugh- a distinctively high pitched giggle that can quickly escalate to a belly-fueled cackle.”

Connection was easy then.  In fact, she was the relative with which I most shared resemblance.  I inherited her light brown hair (blonde for Egypt) and hazel eyes. I inherited her laugh- a distinctively high pitched giggle that can quickly escalate to a belly-fueled cackle. Mama Wagida and I would draw and read and cook together.  I never remember a language barrier when I look back to those childhood memories.

But soon with her health it became harder and harder for her to visit.  Her last time perhaps I was in middle school.  And I didn’t visit Egypt for the first time until I was in college.

And now two years out of school and establishing a career in DC doing Middle East work, struggling with my command of Arabic all the while, the connection was harder.  The language barrier was much more obvious as an adult.

“Everything was cumin-scented…”

So often she would feed me. Pan seared filets of fish that we purchased from the fishmongers in market that morning. Egyptian stews of veggies and legumes in rich garlicky tomato broths served over fluffy rice with sauteed vermicelli noodles. Lentils simmered in cumin and served with fresh pita, soft feta cheese, and tomato-cucumber salad.  Everything was cumin scented: In fact her salt shakers had whole cumin seeds (instead of the more common grains of rice) to absorb the Mediterranean humidity.  She proudly offered cooking demonstrations, revealing her culinary secrets, even as she struggled to stand.  Her kitchen was the only space in which we transcended language barriers- made imperceptible and irrelevant.

We would sit in front of the TV and watch the state-run news together if we couldn’t find a good soap opera.

“Sssssssssss!!!! Da Buuush! Huwa Wisikh!!!!.” (Read: he’s bad news bears…) she would hiss to me when our 43rd American President came on the TV. “BAD!” She would quickly follow with translation.  I would emphatically nod in agreement, perhaps even throw in an “Aiwa” (Egyptian colloquial for ‘yes’).

President Mubarak would come on and she’d approvingly gesture towards him “Huwa Halweh” (Read: he’s good/sweet). I would politely nod.  Like many grandmas she didn’t go out much these days.

 

mamawagida&gidusaad

My grandmother and grandfather, mid 1940s (they married in 1946)

She proudly displayed photographs of my grandfather, Saad El-Din Hafiz, a high ranking Naval Officer, known for his humility and pragmatism, who would ultimately rise to lead Egypt’s Naval Academy in Alexandria.  I remember one image of him walking side-by-side on a tarmac with President Gamal Abdel Nasser, father of the modern Egyptian republic and military rule.  In her Egypt, the military was a proud institution that was revolutionizing the Arab world.

In one of our last dinners together she was preparing for the arrival of my older brother Ashraf and his growing family.  My niece Lily at the time was less than two years old and he and his wife Diane were expecting Kate in just a couple months.

It was finally time to prepare the Macarona Beshamel- a pillar of Egyptian comfort food.  Descending from French colonial influence and spreading in Egyptian kitchens like wildfire,  this dish is traditionally a casserole with its namesake rich white sauce, baked in a thick layer over pasta in a rich tomato-based meat sauce encased in crispy buttery breadcrumbs. Egyptian indulgence at its finest.

“As she melted the semna (ghee or clarified butter) in the pan, she smiled at me with a particular hint of culinary conspiracy in her eyes. “

She knew how badly I wanted to watch her prepare it… It was a hot summer and she waited for the right company.

I stood in the kitchen as she prepared the roux base (equal parts flour and fat) for the beshamel. As she melted the semna (ghee or clarified butter) in the pan, she smiled at me with a particular hint of culinary conspiracy in her eyes.  She knew mom tried her hardest to raise us in a low-fat food household, the influence of being health conscious in 80s (a dietary legacy against which I have spent my life rebelling…)

The beshamel came out beautifully. We prepared the table and opened the Victorian balcony doors, letting in the sounds of the Sea and streets below. She took her seat at the table as matriarch with her growing tribe gathered around her.  Her daughters, grandchildren, and her first great-granddaughter.

My mom and I left Egypt a couple days later.  Ashraf, Diane & fam continued on to Italy.

When we landed at JFK we received news that Mama Wagida had passed just hours before while we were still in the air. Allah yarhamha (God Bless)…

“…there is always more to learn from the resolve of the human spirit and the power of culinary traditions among its most creative, nourishing mediums.”

As I prepare to go back to Egypt for the first time since 2007, since that last dinner with Mama Wagida and her macarona beshamel, I wonder what it is exactly that I’m seeking. Even with the personal and professional risks – and protestations from loved ones and colleagues.

And perhaps it’s the certainty that there is always more to learn. From my own ancestral traditions. From the resolve of the human spirit.  And the power of culinary traditions among its most creative, nourishing mediums.

More soon…