Thursday, May 24, 2012

Skinny Wha...?

I recently purchased a copy of "Skinny B****" by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, because I was intrigued that a diet book written by models was advocating a vegan lifestyle. The book is an extremely quick and easy read, and does indeed have some useful information and advice, yet in my opinion has many shortcomings. In summary, this is my opinion of this book.

I really love that this book emphasizes the importance of eating food which is food. One of the best lines is, "Whenever you see the words 'fat-free' or 'sugar-free', think of the words 'chemical s***storm." The authors are adamant about the fact that in order to lose weight and be generally healthy, one cannot fill up on so-called "diet foods" which are actually nutritionally void and laden with harmful additives. The book also has an entire chapter dedicated to listing various common food additives and their harmful side effects. The book strikes a good balance between expressing why once should eat a natural plant-based diet for weight loss, why meat produced by factory farming is inhumane and unsanitary, and why a proper diet is important for health. Its language throughout is extremely simplistic and crass, but since simplistic and crass sells so well, they obviously had a marketable idea to create a health food book that sounds like it was written by Snooki. I didn't especially care for the tone, but if swearing and snide humor can get a certain factor of the population off of Slim-Fast and onto kale, I'll take it.

The main thing I found negative about this book is that while the first chapters edifying the authors' overall food philosophies emphasize whole foods, practically every suggestion in the "Let's Eat" chapter involves processed food, with an emphasis on fake meat. I can see how someone who has been living on Wendy's would find it easier to transition to eating tofu scramble and Boca burgers than to eating brown rice and pinto beans every day, however, if this book is advocating a healthy lifestyle, it would have behooved them to include a few tips on cooking. I do NOT think that it is possible to be skinny and healthy while dining on soy-based fake meat every night, and while organic vegan cookies are certainly better for you than Chips Ahoy, an excess of vegan junk food will indeed make you fat/broken out/tired etc. (A recent horrible addiction to Sweet and Sara's vegan marshmallows illuminated that fact for me.) They pay lip service to moderation of vegan treats and fake meats, yet their meal plans are absolutely ridden with them. I also disagree heartily with their idea that breakfast should be light and dinner heavy. It makes no sense to eat a piece of fruit in the morning before starting a rigorous day of activity, and then eat an 800 calorie meal 2 hours before going to bed. I have found my weight and energy to be the most optimal when having a hearty breakfast and a piece of fruit or bowl of cereal for dinner.

This was far from my favorite book about nutrition, but I am glad to see that a book exists in the mainstream which is a more sensible, if unsophisticated, response to fad diets such as the Atkins diet. If you appreciate raunchy humor and want a very easy-to-understand guide to veganism, this book isn't bad, but I would take their meal plan with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vegetable Rice with Black Eyed Peas

I like thyme combined with black-eyed peas in this simple yet hearty recipe.

Place 2 cups of brown rice, 5 cups water, a generous sprinkle of garlic, pinch of thyme, pinch of salt, and splash of oil in a pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer 35 min.

In a separate pot, combine 3 cups of cooked black eyed peas, 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 chopped onion, and 4 stalks of chopped celery. Add about a half cup of water (more if beans are drained) and a half vegetable boullion cube. Start simmering this when the rice is 10 min from finished.

Once the rice is done, add the rice to the beans pot and stir well. Simmer the entire medley another 5-10 min until most, but not all, the liquid is absorbed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


In a further attempt to deal with my skin rash, I made an appointment at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, which provides acupuncture, massage, and herbal treatments. For 45 bucks you can be seen by an intern, which seemed to be a good option for the uninsured (me). I also preferred to consult with a person who understood natural remedies, since many Western doctors are ignorant about even nutrition (I've had doctors tell me vitamins were pointless. No lie.)

I was seen by an intern and an assistant, who interviewed me on my medical history for over an hour, very patiently and thoroughly. The intern then scrupulously inspected my tongue, took my pulse several times, took my blood pressure, and probed my abdomen. They shared their findings with their supervisor, an actual doctor, who came by to briefly inspect me, and recommended an acupuncture treatment. If you've never done acupuncture, expect to have about 10-20 needles inserted. They hurt a bit going in, but they are inserted very superficially, and don't generally continue to hurt once inserted. Sometimes you will feel a nerve pain elsewhere, this is sort of the point, because the purpose of acupuncture is to use pressure points to realign systems in your body. They then leave the needles in for about 20 min while you lie still, and then remove them. The main challenge is to stay very, very still, or they will hurt as your muscles tense to move.

I didn't fully understand what they told me they thought was wrong, and they also warned me that acupuncture is not always an instantaneous fix. I was advised to return in a week for a follow-up, where they might prescribe herbs, and decided due to the reasonable rates I would do so.

I don't especially feel any different having done the acupuncture, but I appreciated the thoroughness of the exam and am willing to try a few more sessions to see how it goes. At the very least, the worst case scenario is that the acupuncture doesn't improve my skin issue, but at least it will not hurt me and I am not ingesting any potentially harmful drugs.

As a side note, I should mention that I have, in the past, used acupuncture to heal muscular injuries and found it almost instantaneously effective.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2 Raw Recipes

In my continuing battle against my slowly-improving face rash, I decided to adopt a mostly raw-foods diet for the week to try to boost nutrients back into my system. Mostly I've been eating fruits, nuts, dried fruits, and salads, but to mix things up, I prepared these two dishes:

Half a ripe avocado and scoop out the insides into a bowl.
Add the fresh-squeezed juice of one lemon.
Add pinch of salt.
Mash vigorously with a fork until creamy.

I personally prefer this to other styles with tomato etc and a bowl of it eaten with a spoon did nicely for dinner last night. The high fat content keeps you from feeling like you're going to die of starvation while eating raw.

Raw Banana "Ice Cream"
Peel and mash two overripe bananas. 
Add a tsp of raw agave syrup, mix well.
Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla extract. (Are these raw? I'm not sure. They are tasty. Please do not alert the Raw Police.)
Put into container with lid and freeze for about 4 hours. Top with walnuts. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

DIY At Home Spa Treatments

I can't figure out why, but my skin has been super irritated lately. My guess is it's the abrupt seasonal changes. After days of suffering from an itchy, red, irritated face, I decided to take action. Here were some of the spa recipes I improvised:

Step One: Exfoliator
Take about 2 tbsps of raw oatmeal and drizzle warm water on it til it forms a paste. Rinse your face with water, then use the paste to gently scrub your skin. Rinse again. (Caveat-- if it gets in your hair, it's a pain to get out.)

Step Two: Toner
This was my toner recipe:
1/2 cup Witch Hazel
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp aloe gel
1/4 tsp Willow Bark extract (natural salycic acid, which is commonly used in acne medicine)
Rub over face with soft cloth or cotton ball

Step 3: Moisturizing Mask
All the recipes I had looked up for moisturizing masks called for either eggs or honey, neither of which I keep in my vegan home. So I invented this one:
1/4 avocado
1/4 ripe banana
Smear on face and leave on 15 min, rinse.
The avocado oil is a good moisturizer for your skin. I'm honestly not sure what use the banana is except as a binder, but it was in some of the recipes I found online too. (I also ate some. It was pretty yummy.)

A nice warm/hot bath with epsom salts and apple cider vinegar is great for the skin and for sore muscles. I poured about a half cup of each in. Then I also threw in the leftover oatmeal from the exfoliator for the soothing properties.

It remains to be seen if any of this is helping my skin look better, but it made it feel somewhat better!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Herbal Remedies

I'm not much of a fan of pharmaceuticals, and usually I stay pretty healthy just through diet and exercise. However, I am fond of a few herbal remedies when certain health issues come up. As a caveat, one should use caution when taking any medication, herbal or otherwise, and if you take prescription drugs or have a health issue, it would be wise to consult with both your doctor and an herbalist (don't expect your regular doctor to know anything about herbs) before using an herbal medicine. If you're basically healthy, googling the herb and checking for the side effects or interactions is probably sufficient. I will say that my husband and I have taken the herbs I'm about to mention with no side effects whatsoever.

Cold/Sinus/Allergy Herbs
Echinacea (this one is fairly commonly known, it is a general immune booster)
Nettle (this stuff tastes VERY strong but is good for allergies and sinus-- its super-strong taste alone is enough to clear out your sinuses!)
Schisandria (helps with sore throats)
Sage (also soothing for throats)

I suffered from horrible PMS until I discovered some of these herbs. It was life-changing. I should mention that I DO NOT take oral birth control and those who do should potentially not use these herbs.
Dong Quai (helps to generally regulate cycle and reduce PMS discomfort)
Black Cohosh (this one helps the uterus to relax and shed-- I take it the last 8 days of my cycle and can keep myself on an exact 28-day cycle if I remember to take it the last week, it also helps with cramps during menstruation)
Evening Primrose Oil (also brings on menstruation and aids with cramps, I have known pregnant women who were late delivering and used it to induce labor)
My personal favorite is a melange sold at Westerly Natural Market in Manhattan known as Fem Cycle. If you can't get to this store, there are many tinctures which contain a series of female herbs. Fem Cycle contains Chaste Tree Berries, Wild Yam Root, Dong Quai, Red Raspberry Leaf, Licorice Root, Oregon Grape Root, Cramp Bark, Nettles Leaf, Fresh Garrya Herb.

Willow Bark (natural salycic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin)

St. John's Wort (mood stabilizer, a natural version of Prozac. Helps with depression and anxiety. Has a host of potential interactions and side effects, so google extensively before deciding to use it. Super helpful if it's right for you, good for short and long-term use.)
Kava (helps with relaxation and sleeping. Take in moderation and do not mix with alcohol)

These various herbs can be taken as tinctures (dried herbs soaked in alcohol-- similar concept to vanilla extract) or as infusions (similar to tea, usually an expensive option.) The least expensive option is making your own tinctures, which I do. In order to do this, cover 1 parts herb to 1 part water to 2-4 parts grain alcohol. You have to adjust according to what the herb is, this information is easily found online. Dried herbs can be purchased in New York at Flower Power in the East Village. The women who work there will be sure to tell you that they cannot give medical advice, and then proffer a bounty of useful information.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Breakfast Porridge

This is a great way to use leftover cooked grain from dinner the night before and can be done with any grain such as brown rice, quinoa, kasha. I used bulghur wheat left over from my taboulli.

2 cups bulghur wheat, cooked (or other whole grain)
1 cup almond milk (soy would also be fine, and high protein)
1 tbsp agave syrup (you can use honey, which isn't vegan, if you choose, or maple syrup-- agave has the lowest glycemic index)
Pinch of cinammon, nutmeg, and cardamom (all have anti-inflammatory agents)
1/4 cup dried fruit (I used raisins and dried cranberries)

Combine in a saucepan and simmer on medium heat until it thickens into a soupy paste similar to oatmeal. Delicious warm or cold.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tabouli and Chickpeas-- Fancy

There is a more traditional recipe for this which I'll post at another time. This is an "Iron Chef" version I made using what ingredients I had on hand, with some helpful hints from a chef friend of mine.

Bring 4 cups of water with a dash of salt to a boil. Add 2 cups of bulghur wheat, simmer about 20 min or until water is absorbed.

Chop one onion and combine with 3 cups cooked chickpeas.
Mix together with juice from 2 lemons, dash of salt, oregano, one crushed garlic clove, dash of pepper, and 1/4 cup olive oil.
Dice 3 tomatoes and add to the mix.
Add the cooked bulghur wheat, mix well.
Saute 2 yellow squash in garlic and oil about 5 min and add to mix.

The final fancy element, which is optional, but delicious:
I happened to have a type of lemon called Meyer's lemons, which are especially soft and sweet. You can tell if you have one by the soft smooth slightly orange-y feel and look to the skin. The peel of these lemons can be boiled in very salty water and then chopped up and added to your tabouli mix for a delicious zest.

It is delicious warm, but even more delicious cooled in the fridge for several hours.