Spiced Up: Operation Beautiful

Yes, you read that right. And no, I am not making up my own spice names. I am spicing up this lovely August Monday with Operation Beautiful, a project by the lovely Caitlin, author of Healthy Tipping Point. She started the OB website with a mission: STOP negative self-talk. You know, that evil little voice that tells you how stupid you are when you don’t do something perfectly or how fat you are when you look in the mirror. How, you may ask, did she set out to accomplish this? With Post-Its! She began writing positive messages on post-it notes and putting them in public places, like the library bulletin board and the mirror in public restrooms. Pretty genius, right? 
She went on to write a book about the movement and it officially drops onto shelves everywhere tomorrow, August 3rd – go check it out! In honor of the book, she has deemed this week “Change the way you see, not the way you look” week and bloggers everywhere are posting about it…and I simply had to join in. If there was ever a cause dearer to my heart, it is this. 
A couple days ago, one of our regulars walked into the coffeehouse I work at. I’ve known her long enough to understand that, well, all the wires aren’t totally connected with her, but she means well and has a good heart. She chats with us baristas and the topic of eating came up. When asked if I “watched what I eat,” I paused. I said, “well, somewhat, but I don’t diet.” She seemed rather shocked at that, and asked why. I began to launch into my tirade of how psychologically damaging “dieting” can be before I realized that I was about to release a good bit of personal information that she probably didn’t truly need nor wish to hear. But it did get me thinking. 
I don’t remember when I started becoming aware of the voice in my head, constantly telling me how fat and ugly I was. When I started “dieting”, it was completely self-motivated and with basically no outside help. I stopped buttering bread and eating that cookie just because it was there, but when my friends and I went out for burgers & fries or an epic 12-scoop sundae from Friendlys’, I was happy to indulge right along with them. My motivation to keep on keepin’ on with the new healthy lifestyle was a glance in the mirror at my progress – slowly but surely, I was looking & feeling better than ever. And then I went on a “diet.” 60 pounds later, I only saw the “fat girl” in the mirror, even though people would ask how I was doing after hugging me, feeling how bony I had become. I remember one day, my freshman year in college, I was in a practice room (I’m a voice minor) and I noticed that my collar bone was protruding more than ever – and I liked it. And something about that moment, looking at my frail self in the mirror and still feeling “close, but not good enough” – I could tell something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. I started reading blogs and seeing what other people leading incredibly healthy lifestyles were eating and doing, and little by little, I started to heal. There were, of course, some ups, downs, and BIG ditches in the road, but I keep going. And I like to think I’m doing Ok.
My aunt once told me “you can choose to be anything. You can choose to be happy.” That resonated with me so strongly, because it’s true: you can choose to see the world however you want to. It’s become a kind of mantra for me.
 I’m finally at a place where I can hear that voice whispering in my ear about how fat I look and why I should starve myself for a week to make up for that cupcake – and I can tell it to stick it where the sun don’t shine. I love my body, for allowing me to do everything from knead bread to hold Warrior III pose to simply inhaling and exhaling. It’s a powerful feeling, trusting your body. And I know there are tons of women out there who fear that cookie or going a day without exercise. I am afraid of sounding like a know-it-all or preachy, but at the same time, I would like to scream from the rooftops to JUST LIVE.
This was a long, none-too-eloquent post to say such a simple message. But that’s ok; that’s how I roll.
Today, I look in the mirror and choose to see a beautiful, happy, all-around rockin’ woman. 
What do you see?
~Namaste~
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Spiced Up Monday: Cumin

Cinnamon, cardamom….I decided to keep the ‘c’ thing going, so this week’s Spiced Up is all about cumin!
I was very surprised to learn that cumin seed is actually a member of the parsley family – with its smoky, spicy flavor, I guess it just goes to show how different families can be (and that is meant in all senses ;).
Cumin orginates in ancient Egypt where it was used not only in cooking, but in mummification. You know, in case the dead pharaoh got a sudden afterlife craving for chili con carne. Obviously.
It was also mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible as a seasoning and form of currency. It was pretty popular in the kitchens of ancient Greece & Rome, especially since its spiciness made it a much cheaper substitute for the pricier black pepper.
Cumin, when applied to the skin, causes the skin to pale. Students were all over this one of course and used it to convince their professors that they had pulled an all-nighter studying. Once a college kid, always a college kid. Love it.
It was a staple in medieval-age cuisine and also at that time became a symbol of love and fidelity. It was put in pockets when going to a wedding, and soldiers were sent off to war with a loaf of cumin bread baked by their wives. Of course, anything thrown on top of some fresh-baked carbs says love to me!
In terms of nutritional qualities, it’s pretty high in iron and manganese, and it is also a digestive aid. The mere scent of cumin comes from cuminaldehyde (say that 10 times fast…no really – GO!), a compound that makes up most of cumin’s essential oil, and that scent activates the salivary gland, and the saliva created helps the digestion of food. Mouth-watering – literally! You can even mix it with hot water to help a stomach ache…although I don’t know about you, but sipping on peppermint tea sounds a tad more appealing than a hot cup of cumin-infused water. Should the pantry be bare of peppermint tea however, that sounds like an easy enough sub.
When you think of cumin, you probably either conjure up images of a big ole plate of tamales a la Mexico or a lovely bowl of lentil dahl fresh from India. Its unmistakable flavor is often found in both of those regional cuisines. I would like to say I go against the grain and enjoy my cumin wrapped around a lamb chop or in oats (…ew?), but that would be a lie. And that is simply not the Gillianasana way. 
No, one of my absolute favorite recipes involving cumin has to be aloo gobhi, a traditional Indian dish of cooked cauliflower and potatoes. I discovered it during my visit to India a couple years ago and now I find it difficult to order anything else at Indian restaurants anywhere else. It is just.so.GOOD. Trust me – seek out the nearest Indian restaurant and it will probably be on the menu. Order it. Or be daring and attempt it yourself: http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/gobi-aloo-indian-style-cauliflower-with-potatoes/Detail.aspx
[photo source]
Mmmm. Could go for some of that right about now…
Don’t believe me? See for yourself! My sources:
There you have it – cumin in a nut shell. Or, at least, a blog post. Close enough, right?
~Namaste~

Spiced Up Monday: Cardamom

Hello blogworld! Welcome to the 2nd Spiced Up Monday. Today features one of my secret weapons: cardamom.
You usually find cardamom in its ground form in the grocery store, but what is it ground from? Seeds, of course! They are the seed of a tropical fruit in the ginger family, eletaria cardamomum (say that 10 times fast!), which makes perfect sense from a taste perspective – it definitely has that spicy, sharp flavor in common with ginger. It originates in India, where both the green and black seeds are used; the black is actually from a different but very similar species, and is a little less expensive.
In India, it was used for medicinal purposes and the Greco-Roman era wisely used it as a digestive aid (and you can, too!). Interestingly enough, it is mentioned several times in the ancient story Arabian Nights as being used in Arab culture as an aphrodesiac and to prepare love potions. I can’t attest to that being true, but I sure do have lovey-dovey feelings for a bowl of oats when I throw in some cardamom!
In India, it is a staple spice in countless dishes, both savory and sweet. In the Middle East, they traditionally grind it with their coffee beans, which sounds like a fascinating idea to me! It’s also quite popular in Scandinavia, thanks to its discovery by the Vikings in Constantinople, and is used often in pastries. ANd in ancient Egypt, they chewed the pods to clean their teeth. Know the term ‘Renaissance man’? I think cardamom classifies as a ‘Renaissance spice’!
I first discovered its wonderfulness when attempting to make a bowl of chai-flavored oats, as it is a prominent ingredient in traditional Indian chai tea. Once, I just threw about 1/8-1/4 tsp. of it in my cinnamon oats, and WHOA! It made the whole bowl much more flavorful and sweeter. It was a breakfast miracle. And it’s only right to share my love for this spice with you! It also makes some mean oatmeal cookies, too.
It does have a very intense flavor, and you only need the teeniest bit to make the difference. I suggest a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of cinnamon to cardamom, and perhaps a bit of nutmeg and/or coriander. I ADORE it in cream of wheat. Its comforting flavor will give you that rainy-day-curl-up-with-a-book feeling you know you love. And it’s super fun to experiment with – both in sweet and savory recipes.

Want to learn more? Here are my info sources:
http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/cardamom.html
http://www.culinarycafe.com/spices_herbs/cardamom.html
http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyscardamom.html
http://www.thefoodpaper.com/features/health/cardamom.html

Happy Spicing!
~Namaste~

Spiced Up: Cinnamon

Ok, I know that it is Tuesday…but I have decided, this being my blog and all, that this post is still Monday. Because I can.
For a while I have been getting annoyed with myself about the blahness of the blog – although what I expected after coming home from Italy I don’t know – either way, it’s about time that changed. That said…
Welcome to Spiced Up Monday! Every Monday I will pick a spice and talk about its history, good-for-you properties, uses, and basically what makes them so great. Because Monday is boring and blah and everyone needs a little spice!
I’m starting with a personal fave: cinnamon. I will add it to pretty much everything with full confidence that it will become an even tastier, more interesting dish than before – and more often than not, it works!
Where to begin with this wonderful spice? Well, the beginning sounds pretty good.
It originates from Ceylon (aka, Sri Lanka), but there is also a Chinese variety. Those are the most mainstream, although I know there are several other different origins out there. Each variety has a slightly different flavor profile, and it is really interesting to taste the differences. I had become so accustomed to the Saigon (Vietnamese) cinnamon we get in bulk from Costco, which has a much heavier, spicier flavor, the cinnamon I bought at the euro store in Florence was so light I must have added a tablespoon at a time to my oats!
Cinnamon makes several appearances in the Bible, and was a symbol of friendship. In ancient Rome, cinnamon was burned in funeral pyres during their ceremonial cremations to hide the, um, none-too-pleasant scent of the burning of the dead (eau-de-flesh? I think not.) In the Middle Ages, it became a status symbol – if you could add cinnamon to your food, you had some serious money bags up in your castle!
At banquets, guests would be presented with a plate piled with just different kinds of spices to show them that they were dining in some pretty sweet digs – it was very impressive if you could afford exotic spices from the mysterious East. 
Cinnamon was also used for medicinal purposes, aiding in coughs and with indigestion. And it worked, too – the bark that cinnamon comes from contains three basic types of healing substances found in its essential oils. Cinnemaldehyde prevents clotting in the blood, and acts as an anti-inflammatory because it can lower the release of a particular fatty acid that causes inflammation. It can also stop icky bacteria from growing, AND if that’s enough for you, it can help stabilize blood sugar levels! Cinnamon will slow the speed our stomachs empty after we eat, which is especially beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes.
And for all my fellow college students out there, research has been done that shows cinnamon’s ability to improve brain function. Just one a whiff of this tasty can improve cognitive processing – so if you need a better reason to eat that bowl of cinnamon oats before finals, here it is! 
Cinnamon is high in the mineral manganese as well as fiber, calcium, and iron. All good stuff that we need!
Wanna read more? Here are my sources for the above info:
Now, all this info is all well and good…but what’s the best way to eat it? Oh, the options are limitless. Throw some in your cookies, smoothies, even salads! It’s great with fruits like pear, apple, and banana. And it really makes chocolate pop! That may sound a little crazy, but go with me on this one. One of my favorite hot cereal bowls goes a little somethin like this:
-hot cereal of your choice
-milk of your choice
-cocoa powder (eyeball it, I like using about 2 t)
-a little less than 1 tsp of instant coffee/espresso
-cinnamon (again, eyeball it)
-vanilla extract
-strawberries and blueberries
Cook the cereal as you normally would, adding in the spices. I like cooking the fruit in with it so the flavors meld together, but you could definitely throw them on top fresh as well. It’s like a fruity Mexican Mocha! I promise, it’s awesome.

Of course, you could just stick with the classic apples & cinnamon. Can’t go wrong with that.

 Of course, when it comes to cinnamon, it’s pretty hard to go wrong in general – it’s really good stuff.
~Namaste~