Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dal With Rice and Vegetables

    Today is the first snow of the season where I live. It's not coming down very fast. It's more of a dusting than a squall, which is what I would prefer for it's drama, but a dusting will do. At the least, it is enough of an excuse to let me curl up and spend the whole day doing couch related activities, like reading, watching dvd's, and maybe doing a little hand sewing. I have a pair of pants that will be out of season if I don't get them hemmed before spring. Spring is pretty far off though, so I don't expect I'll be doing any hemming today. It's only the first snow, so I don't want to get over ambitious. It's probably best to put it off. It will give me something to do during the next snow storm.

   Cooking is still on the agenda though. But before I tell you about what I am making, I want to tell you about my day yesterday. I spent the afternoon yesterday at the dentist. I had my root canal removed, and one of my mercury fillings. I go back tomorrow to have the other one out. This is part of my- beat cancer boot camp- plan. We all know mercury is toxic, and I believe, as do many others, that having mercury in your mouth harms your immune system, as it leaches from the filling into your membranes. Root canals are also a problem because they are dead teeth. They have no blood supply, so they often contain dangerous bacteria. I've been reading about these dangers for decades, but who wants to spend a lot of money taking out teeth and fillings that you have spent a lot of money having put in. Well...since I have cancer. I do! I am doing everything I can think of to make my body wake up and do the right thing-STOP! making cancer cells.

   Mercury removal must be done safely, otherwise you could release more mercury into your mouth and cause a toxic overload. I thought I was going to have to go to Tijuana (yes Mexico) or Montreal to have it done. Safe removal is not the standard practice, and I was having a hard time finding someone in the U.S.. Then I discovered a dentist in Groton MA who does it. That's only an hour and a half away! 

   When I arrived they took a full mouth X-ray and then explained the procedure. They start by covering your face with a thin white cloth . I was given pure oxygen to breath through my nostrils. Then a rubber/latex dam was fitted into my mouth to prevent any particles or vapors from hitting my mouth. They also put charcoal under my tongue to absorb the mercury in case any vapors get through. The dentist and his assistant wore heavy duty gas masks during the procedure. The kind you see people wearing to protect themselves from nuclear fallout. They also had me hold a vacuum tube that was vented to the outside of the building.  All this for one little blob of silver mercury. And this thing has been sitting in my mouth for decades!

  When they were done with the filling and root canal removal they gave me far-infrared waves to the site to stimulate healing, and sent me home with homeopathic  remedies for pain, inflammation, and bone trauma. I feel fine today, and have no pain. It cost me a lot of money, but really, given my situation-I'm worth it. 

   Now back to the couch...I mean cooking. I hope I didn't lose you with my little public service announcement about mercury, because I am making a delicious dal that you will want to hear about. With this hole in my jaw I knew that soup would be the easiest thing to eat today, and given that I love dal and could eat it everyday, and have in the past, what else would I be making on a snowy day like today. It's warm and comforting. It's substantial and filling. It's nutritious and delicious. And it reminds me of India...ahhh India-warm sunny India.

   So here we go. I am calling this dish dal-ish. It's actually more like khichri because it has vegetables and grains cooked into it, but because I used quinoa instead of rice, it didn't seem right to call it khichri. Plus I figured not everyone knows what khichri is, so I thought it best to lure you in with a dal recipe. I'm rambling I know. I do this when I talk too. 

Dal With rice and Vegetables 
Serves 5-6

Dal ingredients:
1c. moog dal
1/4 c. basmati rice (or quinoa)
6 c. water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 medium onion chopped 
You can use any combination of vegetables you like. I used what I had, but cauliflower, potato, and peas would be nice also. Carrots are a good addition.
4 plum tomatoes chopped
1 bunch of spinach chopped
1/2 c. peas
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
cilantro to garnish

Tarka ingredients
1T. olive oil
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 T. chopped onion
1 chopped green chili (optional)

   Start by rinsing the moong dal beans very well. You want the water to run clear. Do the same with the rice.
   Add the dal and water to a heavy bottom pot. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim off the foam from the surface as they cook for the first few minutes. Then add the rest of the dal ingredients. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hr. This is like porridge. Everything is well cooked. Give it a stir once in a while to be sure it is not sticking. Add water as needed to keep it from getting pasty. You can adjust the consistency to how you like it, thin like soup, or thick like porridge. 
   You can make the tarka when the dal is almost done. Just heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the seeds, and red pepper. Stir for a few seconds, then add the onion and cook until starting to brown then add the green chili (if using). Stir for another minute.
   Remove the dal from the heat. Taste and adjust the salt. Add the tarka.
   Top with cilantro and serve. A wedge of lime on the side is always nice.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Braised Cabbage and Caraway

    Let's try that again.

   I don't even want to tell you what came before this recipe. Okay...if you really want to know....I was making something totally different,  but I screwed it up. I dumped the dry uncooked rice into the wrong pot, and since there is no way to retrieve rice from a pot of soup, I added the boiling water from the pot the rice was supposed to go in to the wrong pot too, and hoped for the best. It came out okay, but it was not something I wanted to post. It was no longer soup. 

   After that mucked up mess, I was in no mood to go to the market for more supplies, so I decided I would make do with what I had on hand, which was a cabbage and a few carrots. I turned to my Polish heritage, and went straight for the kapusta ( I hope that means cabbage).

   I don't know what inspired me to search my heritage for this recipe. I never make Polish food. I usually go with Indian. Maybe somewhere in my mind, with Christmas day just ahead, I was thinking of babci (grandmother).

   We always spent Christmas Eve at babci's when I was young. The whole family, all the generations were there. The house was full of people coming and going, and the tables were laden with plates and platters of food. Being a shy child, I was always afraid of getting lost in the commotion, so I stayed close to my mother, and observed as the spirit of Christmas took hold, and filled everyone with joy and laughter. 
   I don't think this recipe is strictly Polish, but it is delicious. I am going to make it for my dad to go with all the leftover Christmas ham he is sure to have, and see what he thinks.

   You are probably most familiar with caraway seeds in rye bread.  The pungent little seeds have an earthy, sweet, light anise flavor, with a hint of citrus.  They are related to fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds, and like them, they too marry well with cabbage and tomatoes. 

   This dish is both sweet with the distinct taste of caraway, and tart from the addition of apple cider vinegar. It can be served as a side dish, or over rice. If you wanted to add beans, garbanzo beans would be nice.

Braised Cabbage and Caraway
serves 4-6

1T. olive oil
1 medium onion chopped 
3 cloves of garlic chopped
1 medium carrot chopped small
1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 medium cabbage finely sliced (about 8-9 c.)
14 oz can of whole tomatoes chopped
1c. water
1 tsp. salt- start with less if your tomatoes are salty
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 T. apple cider vinegar
lemon wedges to serve (optional)
parsley to garnish (optional)

   Start by heating the olive oil in a heavy bottom pot. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes.
   Add the garlic, spices and carrot, and cook until the onions start to turn golden at the edges. 
   Then add the cabbage, tomatoes, salt and pepper.
   Add half of the water and stir this around a bit. Cover and continue to cook, adding water as needed. You can cook this for as long as it takes to reach your desired softness.  I cooked mine for about 12 minutes. 
I suggest not adding all of the water at once, because I like my cabbage with a little bit of structure left to it, and I want it dry rather than soupy. You could cook it until it is really soft  and limp, if that's the way you like it. 
   After it is done cooking remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cider vinegar. Taste and adjust for salt, and vinegar. I like to add a good squirt of lemon juice to my bowl for extra brightness. A sprinkle of parsley and an extra drizzle of oil would be nice too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash with Beans

   The question is - what am I going to eat for Christmas dinner. I'm the only almost always    vegetarian, vegan leaning, and pretty close to wheat free person in my family, so even though I do most of the cooking, I tend to cater to everyone elses eating habits, which means a big plate of meat in the center of the table, surrounded by a few traditional vegetable dishes, and a basket of warm rolls. This is fine with me. I am content with a plate of sides, but there's nothing special in that, so this year I am looking for something that feels more like a meal in itself to sit beside the meat. This squash dish is a definite contender.

   My family is eating ham for christmas, so I think if they try this they will like it, and find that the sweetness of the squash with a hint of spice is familiar enough, and is a great compliment to the salty meat. They will probably wonder what the beans are doing in there though, and will certainly question my judgement when they notice the olives, but that's okay, there will be peas for the picky eaters, and I will be more than happy if there are leftovers. I know this will taste even better the next day. In fact, I may even make it a day in advance.

   This recipe was adapted from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite (Mitchell Beazley 2014). The only reason I adapted it from the start was because I didn't have exactly what I needed on hand, so I substituted a couple of things, and then as I was prepping everything it reminded me of another recipe I made long ago with pumpkin and olives. That's how the olives got in there.  If you don't want to add olives, that's okay, but I think their salty briny flavor with their slight bitterness is perfect, and they make it seem even less ordinary/traditional, and more holiday/special. 
Lemon from my own tree
   I wish I knew of an easier way to peel butternut squash. I always worry I am going to lose a finger to the initial cutting into of the squash, and that one little clumsy slip of the knife while attending to the peel could easily lead to a severed artery or something. It is, I think, the most dangerous of vegetables, but so worth the risk. Maybe I should ask my friend Jenna if she has any squash peeling tricks, because after writing about my avocado mashing trick in my last post, I asked her if she knew about this. She did. Apparently it was so obvious that she never thought to tell me, leading me to post my discovery like I was a genius or something. In the future I will be running my genius discoveries by Jenna before posting them. 

Here is the recipe:

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash and Beans
serves 6 (if served with a grain)

2T. olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped (more if they are the small inner ones)
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes (more if you want to feel the heat)
5 plum tomatoes chopped ( I used canned)
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. tomato paste
1 butternut squash (about 2 1/4 lbs.) peeled and chopped
2c. water
15 oz. can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
3 slices of lemon (1/4 " thick))
olives (about 15)
salt (start with 1/2tsp.)
lemon juice to taste (I used 1T.)
a handful of torn mint leaves 
   Heat 1T. of oil in a dutch oven ( or whatever you would normally make a stew in). Saute the carrot and onion until the onion starts to brown. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook for a minute more.

   Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute before adding the chopped tomatoes.

   In another pan heat the other 1T. of oil and sauté the squash cubes until golden brown and starting to soften. You will probably need to do this in two batches, and truthfully, I did one batch and then just threw the rest of it into the pot raw. It probably gives it a nicer flavor, but I just wasn't in the mood for this extra step. 

   Add the squash to the onion mixture along with the salt, water, olives, and lemon slices. Diana had you adding zest, but next to cutting up winter squash, zesting is my next least favorite thing to do, so I just threw in a few lemon slices. Voila. 
   Bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Add the beans and continue to simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. It is done when the squash is soft and it is thick  and stew like.

   Remove from the heat. Adjust salt and lemon to taste, and sprinkle in the mint.

   I've always liked tomatoes and winter squash. Their acidity balances the sweetness of the squash. The brighter acidity in the lemon lightens this dish up just a bit.
   You could serve this over couscous, quinoa or bulgur wheat.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ovarian Cancer Update/Inspiration

   Well, here I go again. My ovarian cancer is active, and my doctors want me to do more chemo to try to stop it. I found out a few weeks ago when I went in for blood work earlier than I was scheduled to because of some suspicious pains I was having. Nothing major, but I knew something wasn't right. I knew it was the cancer.

   This seems to be my routine. For the past three years, just as the holiday season approaches, just days before Thanksgiving, I am told "you have cancer or, the cancer is back". Gee thanks. Well I guess I should be thankful that it let's me enjoy my summers before it sets me back on the road to chemotherapy. Of course my doctors want me to start chemotherapy right away, but I'm not ready. I'm close to ready, but not yet willing to subject my body to more poison, at least not until I feel I have no other option, so I am putting myself through beat cancer boot camp. This means more juicing, more supplements, more research, an even more restricted diet, and finding a way to take pleasure in it all. If I can't stop the cancer on my own, at least I will know that I did everything I could to strengthen my defenses against the poisons the doctors have to offer.

   I read the following quotes a while ago, and filed them away for times like these, when I feel myself being tempted to accept that this might be the end in a way that feels too close to giving up the fight, because some days I am so exhausted that I think resignation would be a relief.  But I know I don't have it in me to give up. I believe in the power of hope. It's all I've got. It's all I need.

   Words like these help.

" I can't believe I've come this far 
to only come this far"

"Keep the faith. The most amazing things happen
when you are about to give up."

      I also find that testimonials from people who have beat cancer  are helpful and inspiring, so I have included a couple of links for those of you who are interested. For an online testimonial from a man who treated his cancer with supplements  click here.  For a compilation of testimonials in book format, there is the  book "Radical Remission, Surviving Cancer Against All Odds" by Dr. Kelly Turner Phd., which is enjoyable and inspiring to read
available here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sweet Potato and Stuff

    Ha! Today I inspired myself. I can't believe I didn't figure this out sooner. Maybe most of you already have, but  typically when I need some mashed up avocado, I scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash it up with a fork. No more! Now I do it right in the shell. Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lemony Lentils

    Lentils are my favorite answer to the question -what can I make that is quick, easy, and delicious? Plus, they're not fussy and make great leftovers. 

Lemony Lentils
serves 4

1c. black or green french lentils
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic 
3c. of water

2T. fresh lemon juice
1T. olive oil
1 tsp. grates lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
a few grinds of black pepper

2 scallions sliced
2T. chopped herbs, plus a few sprigs to garnish - I used dill, but I also like parsley and mint

Rinse and drain the lentils. I like to soak mine overnight, or at least a few hours before cooking.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Add the lentils, garlic, and bay. Simmer until done. Usually about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice together. Add the salt and pepper.

When the lentils are tender and cooked through, drain well. Remove the bay leaf. 

In a bowl add the lentils, dressing and fresh herbs. Mix well, and taste. Adjust salt and lemon to taste. Serve

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cancer Doesn't Like Turmeric

   I have been reading a lot about turmeric lately, and am totally on board with adding it to my daily diet.  The healing properties of turmeric first caught my attention more than a decade ago when I read that populations that consume turmeric regularly have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Another reason, I thought, to love Indian food. Now I am finding out that turmeric also has powerful anti cancer properties.

   Turmeric is a rhizome from the curcuma longa plant that is native to South East Asia, but is also cultivated in other tropical areas. It is related to ginger and has a similar shape and dark tan skin, but is smaller with a bright orange interior. When dried and ground into a powder it is easily recognized by its golden yellow color. You will find it on the ingredient list of those familiar bright golden yellow mustard jars. It is best known as a spice commonly used in Indian cooking, but it also has a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. 

  Curcumin, the main healing ingredient in turmeric, is antiseptic, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Inflammation contributes to many of today's chronic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.  Curcumin can protect us by inhibiting our bodies ability to create the kind of long term low grade inflammation that leads to these diseases. Its detoxifying abilities also protect us by reducing the harm that free radicals do to our cells. 

   Studies are showing promising results in many areas of cancer prevention and treatment. Curcumin has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, shrink tumors in certain cancers, prevent metastasis, increase the effectiveness of some chemotherapies, and reduce side effects.

Here is a list of some of the other ways turmeric is used in healing:
  • to protect against flu
  • as a natural pain killer
  • to detoxify the liver
  • to sooth an upset stomach
  • to improve digestion
  • as a natural antidepressant 
  • applied topically to heal and prevent infection
   Turmeric can be bought in capsule form and taken like a supplement, but I feel it is better to use it in cooking or to make a tea. I find tea the fastest easiest way to incorporate it into my day. I buy bulk organic turmeric by the pound on Amazon.com

Lemon Turmeric Tea
4c. water
1T. turmeric powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
lemon or lime juice to taste
optional: sweetener, ginger root, 

Start by bringing the water to a boil. Add the turmeric, black pepper and a few (1/4") slices of ginger. Boil this for ten minutes then remove it from the heat, and strain.
Turmeric has an earthy, almost woody and bitter taste, so a bit of sweetness gives it a nice balance. Honey is best, but if you already have cancer I recommend you go with just a bit of stevia. You want to let the tea cool a bit before adding the juice if you plan to drink it hot, or wait until it cools completely if you will drink it cold. Sometimes I add just a bit of juice, other times I add enough to make it a true lemonade. I usually make it first thing in the morning and drink it cold throughout the day.

If you don't like the way it tastes, start out with less turmeric until you get used to it.

The black pepper is important here. It contains piperine, which improves the absorption of curcumin.

Here is another recipe I like:

Spiced Turmeric Tea
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. turmeric
pinch of black pepper
2 tsp. of chopped ginger (a couple of slices)
1c. of water
1/2c. almond milk (or you could use coconut milk)
sweetener to taste

Bring the water to a boil. Add all the spices and simmer for ten minutes. Add the almond milk. Heat but do not let it boil. Strain and add sweetener of choice. 

Please note: I have read some contraindications for turmeric. For instance pregnant or nursing mothers should consult their doctors before using turmeric, and it may interfere with some chemotherapies. So, please be sure it is safe for you to use if you have any medical condition.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mind Changing Carrot Soup

Carrot Quinoa Soup

      Somewhere in my past , I must have had a bad carrot soup experience, because even though I like carrots, I held to the idea that I didn't want a soup made out of them. Luckily this soup came along and changed my mind.
   The first time I had it, I was on a three day silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society  (IMS) retreat center in Barre, Ma.  There were ninety participants, and we all started our day with meditation at 6AM, and ended the same way at 9PM. The sound of the bells would call us to the meditation hall, where we would silently take our places on a cushion, or a chair if the floor was too uncomfortable for us.  We all meditated, did our assigned chores, ate our meals, and relaxed in silence. We were to spend the entire time being present (in the moment), and settling our minds. To help with this, along with not talking, we were discouraged from reading and writing, and cell phones were a big no-no. 
   I am not a talkative person, so the silence was not much of a challenge for me. The hardest part of the retreat for me was staying alert while just sitting there in a silent room. I guess focussing on your breath is supposed to be interesting enough to keep you awake, but really-it just doesn't cut it. I had an ongoing battle with fatigue. Luckily we alternated between sitting and walking meditation, so I was able to steal a couple of naps in my room when I should have been walking. That may sound like cheating, but I figured since it was a silent activity, it was allowed. Don't you think?
   It really was a great experience overall though. It made me more aware of how filled with distractions my days are. How I turn to something outside of myself when I don't know what to do with myself. I also found it interesting how even without sharing words, just sharing the experience made me feel connected to every person in the room. We all had our own reasons for being there, but we were somehow all in it together. I left the retreat feeling very peaceful, and with a renewed commitment to practicing on my own at home, which I find helpful. It doesn't keep me from getting scattered or stressed out, but I do notice that when I do spiral into an emotional frenzy, it's easier to observe the chaos in my head and quickly get to a better place.  I am looking forward to going back for five days in February.
   The silent part of the retreat ended with lunch on the last day, giving us a chance to share our experiences, and talk about the food!  This carrot soup was a favorite of everyones. I have to admit though, the first time I made it something went wrong. I don't know if there was a mistake in the recipe, maybe the amount of water was wrong, or maybe it was because of my zealous blender habits. I have a Vitamix Pro 300 and like to crank it up to maximum speed. I find it exciting how fast it it can go. It's the most amazing blender. Anyway, I ended up with a smooth paste. I made a few adjustments to the recipe and my technique. Now it works. It now has a clean carrot flavor, with a hint of curry spice, richness from the coconut, and a nice texture.

Carrot Quinoa Soup
serves 5-6

2T. coconut oil (or olive)
1 1/2 lbs. carrots
1 large onion
1 large stalk of celery
1T. minced garlic
2T. minced ginger 
2 tsp. of curry powder
2 tsp. of salt
4 c. vegetable stock, or water
1c. coconut milk
1/4c. of rinsed quinoa ( I soak my grains before using to remove the phytic acid)
1 T. lemon juice and some wedges to serve with individual servings
toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

This soup is very simple.

Since it is going to be pureed, you can rough chop the vegetables into 1/2 inch chunks.

Heat a medium sauce pan with the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. 

Add the garlic, ginger, and spices and sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the carrots and celery.

Add the broth, salt, and coconut milk. If your broth is salted, you may need to reduce the amount of salt you add. Simmer for about 20 minutes, and then add your quinoa and continue simmering for another 10 minutes, or until the quinoa is done. 
You could also use leftover quinoa or pre-cook the quinoa, and throw it in after the soup finishes cooking.

Remove it from the heat, and let cool a few minutes before pureeing it in the blender. You can make it smooth, but not so smooth that you completely destroy the quinoa. 

Add in the lemon juice, and taste. Adjust if needed. You can also add more liquid if needed.

Top with pumpkin seeds, and serve with extra lemon wedges.

Phytic acid is present in grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. It is a natural substance utilized by the seeds when they sprout, but it impairs our bodies absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium. Soaking beans and grains overnight, or at least for several hours, and rinsing them well removes the acid and increases the amount of minerals we absorb from them. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to Make Almond Milk

nut milk bag

Start by soaking 1c. of whole raw (preferably organic) almonds in several cups of water for at least 4 hours. I use filtered water, and most often soak them overnight, and then make the milk in the morning. 

Drain and rinse the soaked nuts. You can if you want to, slip the skins off the almonds. They usually slip off easily with a little squeeze. I have seen recipes that tell you to do this, and recipes that don't  even mention it.  I usually pop some out of their skins just for the fun of it, but ignore any that seem stuck. I don't notice a difference in the milk either way.

Next put the soaked nuts in a blender with 3-4c. of water (less water will make a richer milk). Add a pinch of salt and 1T. vanilla ( optional). Blend on high for about 1 minute.

Next pour the milk into a nut milk bag fitted over a bowl. You could also use a thin kitchen towel or several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze the milk bag over the bowl until as much liquid as possible is extracted.

Pour it into a covered glass container/bottle and store in the fridge for 4-5 days.

There are uses for the leftover pulp. Add it to baked goods, hummus/spreads, or hot cereal.

Rose Almond Milk With Raspberries

This drink started out as a raspberry strudel with rose frosting.

   Let me explain.  My friend Jenna and I had lunch at the Five Eyed Fox last week, and this was on the menu. It's a strudel filled with locally made raspberry jam and topped with a rose flavored icing. 

   Technically, Jenna ordered it, but I helped her eat it. It was so delicious that it started me thinking about what I could make with these flavors that would not involve all the sugar typical of a dessert like this. So, I deconstructed the strudel.
   I loved the floral quality of the icing, so I definitely wanted to make something with rosewater in it. The first thing I thought of was falooda, a sweet drink/dessert made with rosewater flavored milk that's popular in India. Falooda typically has some kind of fruit, some basil seeds or chewy bits, not unlike the texture of the tapioca balls in bubble tea, and ice cream in it. It's delicious, but again it's loaded with sugar.
    I stuck with the falooda concept and started out with almond milk. I added chia seeds (because I didn't have basil seeds), and raspberries. The seeds and the raspberries give it texture, and it's nice how the raspberry flavor intensifies when you get the bits of fruit in your mouth.  So forget you ever saw the picture of that sugar laden strudel, because this is just as satisfying. And if you are already missing summer, as I am, this is like summer in a glass. Of course if the direction of your day depends on whether or not you have the strudel, by all means have the strudel. We all need to be a little decadent once in a while, but if you can be satisfied with a delightfully fruity, floral drink that can sweeten your day with (a lot) less sugar, go for this refreshing drink.

rose almond milk with raspberries
So this is very simple.
serves 1

start with:
1c. vanilla almond milk (please make your own)
1tsp. chia seeds
2 tsp. of honey (I used 1tsp. honey plus 1/8tsp. stevia)
mix these ingredients and let sit for 20 minutes for the seeds to hydrate
1tsp. of rosewater
1/2c. of raspberry pieces-I use frozen and break them up so that they will go through a straw.
mix well and enjoy

   I always make my own almond milk. I don't like the way the stuff in the carton tastes, and I don't like all the gum additives they put in. Fresh is so much better tasting, and I feel like I can trust it to be a healthy choice.  If you use the stuff in the carton, be sure to adjust the sweetener if the one you buy already has sugar. Most original flavor almond milks are high in added sugar.

If you don't know how to make almond milk, I am posting a quick how to next.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Inspiration and Quotes

a favorite spot for tea

   This is where I like to find myself on a quiet lazy Sunday morning, or any other lazy day for that matter. It is a used bookstore that is housed, along side a cafe, in an old grist mill. There are a lot of little corners and funky furnishings scattered about, allowing you to nestle yourself in amongst the books and forget the pressures of the day.
   I love to sit here by the window with a cup of tea, soothed by the rushing sound of the river below. It is a great place to browse a book, contemplate life, or formulate an idea for a blog post. At least it was. Until I discovered Pinterest. I spent hours this past Sunday, eyes fixed on my phone, pinning, glancing only occasionally out the window to relieve eye strain. 
   I am not a big fan of social media. I believe it has its place, but a part of me still holds the belief that because it is distracting and addictive, it is contributing to the decay of society. That said, I am totally hooked. Pinterest is so awesome. I love photographs, especially of beautiful things and interesting places. I am addicted to interior design, and food, and style, and all the pretty things in life and commerce. I also found a lot of useful information to pin. 
   I am into quotes these days. Sometimes all it takes is a few simple words to inspire you, or remind you of what you seem to have a hard time remembering. I hope you like quotes too. I found a lot of them on Pinterest. Some of which I am posting here.

I love this one:
In three words I can sum up
everything I learned about life:
it goes on"
by Robert Frost

This is beautiful:
"The meaning of life is to find your gift.
The purpose of life is to give it away".
by William Shakespeare

This is my favorite:
"Above all be the heroin of your life
not the victim"
by Nora Ephron
   Do you have any favorite quotes you would like to share?  I will be posting more quotes here on the blog in the future, but if you want to read all of the ones I have pinned so far, go to my board click here

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cancer I know (my story)

"You never realize how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have"

   Cancer, I know it well. I have been living with it for almost two years now. It was two years ago, the week before Thanksgiving, that I was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer. 
   Cancer, I know it well. I have had tumors surgically removed. They gutted me like a fish. I had a complete hysterectomy and an appendectomy. They removed my omentum. They removed tumors from my colon and my diaphragm.
   I survived against the odds. I was told that I had a 40% chance of surviving. I was told that as soon as I could, I needed to get myself up out of the bed and walk. So I did. I dragged myself and my IV pole, with my bags filled with fluid dripping into my arm, down the hall and around the nurses desk, lap after slow lap, with someone by my side in case I collapsed. 
   I was bloated and heavy from edema from the waist down from lying in bed, while at the same time being nothing but skin and bones up top. My five feet five inch frame had dropped from 115 pounds to ninety five pounds in a matter of days. I was not allowed to eat for the first three days, and my body was quickly burning through it's supplies trying to heal itself.
   Four days after my surgery I was released and sent home with my abdomen stapled shut from the tip of my sternum to my pubic bone. I was sent home with ten days worth of medicine that I had to shoot by needle into the flesh of my slack scrawny thighs to prevent blood clots. I was shown how to care for my wound, and told to watch for signs of infection. I would start chemo as soon as I healed. 
   Cancer, I know it well. I have had chemotherapy twice now. I have lost my hair- all of it. Not even an eyelash was spared. I didn't really care. It was no time to be vain. I looked as bad as I felt. I have lost my ability to taste food. I have had painful neuropathy in my hands that woke me up at night. I have had mouth sores which made it impossible for me to eat, even liquids sipped cautiously through a straw caused terrible pain. Talking was also painful, except when I could get the sound out through my clenched teeth without moving my tongue. Which is nearly impossible. My cognitive functions became impaired, and the steroids I had to take turned me into an emotional maniac, and prevented me from sleeping. 
   I live alone, and it was the dead of winter. I didn't have a car at the time, so I took taxis, or walked when I had the strength. At times I ordered chinese food to be delivered when that's all I could manage.  People helped, and probably would have helped more if I had asked, but I am independent, and I felt I was managing. I find it hard to ask for help, so I actually prefer struggling on my own. I tend to turn people away.  
    Seven months after this all started, when I finished with chemo, I was in remission. My blood work (CA125) was below the normal mark, which is 32. It was at 4000 when I was diagnosed! After a few months of being drug free, I felt better than I had in years, but then that feeling went away. The cancer was back, and it had metastasized to my liver. I was (am) now at stage 4. So, just five months after my first chemotherapy ended, I was again on the fast track to an early death. I was right back on the same road.... In spite of this I decided to delay chemo for a while. I was still feeling relatively well. I was still working and traveling. I had just spent a few weeks in Paris and the French Riviera. I wasn't ready to ruin what quality of life I still had. Every successive blood test showed that the cancer was growing rapidly, and I lived everyday with the decision of- is this the day I should start chemo. Will tomorrow be too late.
   When I started chemo this second time my blood CA125 was at 800.  The chemo brought it down at an astounding rate. After only two rounds of chemotherapy it was down to a jaw dropping 50! Yay! it worked. Two more rounds brought it down to 12, a comfortable spot well within the normal range of 0-32. Okay, another chance to live! I have now enjoyed two months of remission.  I will be tested again at the end of December. If my blood CA125 level has risen, I will again have to decide if I want to do chemo.
   Ovarian cancer is treated as a chronic disease. Even though it has one of the highest fatality rates, and is not curable, there are drugs, chemotherapy drugs available to prolong your life. And as long as they keep working, you keep living, until they destroy your body so much that they kill you, or they just stop working and the cancer kills you. What a choice!
  By now I know cancer very well, I have lived it, I have researched it, and I have talked with so many people who have it, or who know someone who has it. I am so grateful for all the stories I have heard. I have learned so much, and gained so much strength from them. 
   So, that's my story. I hope no one misunderstands my motive, and thinks I would accept their sympathy here. Congratulations would be accepted though. I wrote this simply because I wanted to share it. This is my life. This is what I have to share. And if it makes even one person with cancer feel less alone for having read it, I would be very pleased. 
   Cancer is not a death sentence. Cancer is a challenge. I choose to meet the challenge everyday.
   If anyone would like to write to me and share their story, or ask me any questions, you could use the comment box on this blog, or email me at figfoodin@gmail.com. 
   Thanks for listening

Monday, November 9, 2015

Carrots With Coconut From My New Cookbook

Carrots with Coconut

   I am so excited. I just bought Madhur Jaffrey's new cookbook, Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking (Knopf, 2015), and it is so full of delicious looking recipes that I don't know where to start. Of course there are dals to try, and my favorite flatbreads, but she has also included recipes that are less familiar to most, like pancakes and poha (flattened rice) upma, which I love.
   I used to live in India, and I miss it every single day: the food, the people, the culture. I spent the greater part of four years living in Goa. I lived right on the beach, going days without ever leaving the sand. I never missed a sunset, and I slept and woke to the gentle sound of the waves. Well it was probably the roosters that actually woke me up, but it was lovely none the less.
   I used to be a professional massage therapist, and I used to travel- a lot. I went to India on vacation, planning to stay for a month or two, and ended up setting up a massage business there in a local guesthouse. I worked through the eight month tourist season, and then travelled by train across that beautiful, vastly diverse country. It's crazy to think about it now, but that's how my life was back then. I travelled. I explored. I was free and open to life's opportunities.

at work

my beach

   Well now, where was I before I drifted away with my memories of India. Oh yes, food, Indian food, and recipes for things I love, but haven't tasted since I left India.
   Now I have to admit here that I am not a very organized cook. I wish I were the type to have a meal plan for the week and all the necessary ingredients on hand, but I'm not. I almost never know what I will make for my next meal. I usually just throw some ingredients together and hope for the best. Even so, I eat well. But when I get my hands on a new cookbook, I get totally organized. I pull out my little colored sticky tabs to mark all the recipes that I like. I make a list of the ones I want to make in the week ahead, and then set out for the markets. Once I have rounded up all the ingredients that I need, I dive in. So, with my new cookbook in hand , I know what I will be eating this week-Indian!
   I chose to start with this recipe for carrots because it was simple, and it reminded me of where I used to live. The use of coconut is most commonly used in southern India, where they grow. In Goa I actually lived surrounded by coconut palm trees, and when it came time to harvest, I would watch the men skillfully climb the tall slender trunks with their deft hands and feet. When they reached the top they would release the large nuts with a quick chop of their machete and let them fall to the ground. You could hear the rhythm- thwack, thud, thwack, thud, until they shimmied back down, and moved on to the next tree.You had to keep your head up at this time, because you didn't want to accidentally wander into the path of a falling coconut. They can do serious damage.

   This is a simple light side dish. The flavor of the carrots dominates, while the coconut adds a rich, nutty sweetness. The ginger and dried chilies add warmth, and the cilantro brightens things up a bit. I like a bit more bright acidic flavor to balance the sweetness, so I give it a good squeeze of lime juice.

Recipe adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Vegetarian India
Yields 3-4 servings 

Carrots with Coconut

5 medium carrots
1 T. olive oil or coconut oil
1/2 tsp. urud dal (white lentils)
You can find urud dal in Asian markets or online, but it won't change the dish too much if you leave it out.
1/2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
2 whole dried red chilies broken in half
1 tsp. grated ginger
1/4 tsp. salt or more to taste
3T. grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
2T. chopped cilantro (I used more)
lime wedge (optional)

   Let me start by saying that I don't expect anyone to crack open and grate their own coconut. Extra points if you do, but I certainly am not willing to. I bought frozen. If you can't find frozen, I would go with dry unsweetened, and not worry about it.
   Next, if you are a peeler, go ahead and peel the carrots. It does make for a prettier dish, but I wouldn't hesitate to skip this step. Just scrub them well, and slice them into thin rounds.
  Heat the oil over medium heat in a sauté pan. I used olive oil as the original recipe suggested, but will probably use coconut oil next time. Throw in the urud dal, and when it starts to color throw in the mustard seeds and dried chilies.  When the mustard seeds start to pop (after a few seconds) throw in the carrots, ginger and salt. Stir it around for a bit until well mixed. 
  Add 3-4 T. of water and cover the pan. Simmer until the carrots are tender. I like my carrots on the crunchy side, so I used only 3T. of water.
   Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut and cilantro. Mix and serve with a wedge of lime.

You could try this recipe with other vegetables too. I remember eating something like this with pumpkin/squash, and I bet it would be a fantastic way to do green beans.