I will refrain from saying I told you so, but the evidence keeps piling up! Another study finds that coffee is actually good for you! The Harvard School of Public Health just published a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine which finds that coffee consumption seems to reduce incidence of depression in women. They found that women who drank 2-3 cups of coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression compared to those who drank 1 or fewer cups.
The association between coffee drinking and reduction of depression makes sense from a Chinese medicine standpoint. Coffee affects the Liver in Chinese medicine and the Liver plays a major role in patterns which result in depression. Even from a biomedical perspective the liver is responsible for breaking down compounds which are then reassembled to form other ones like hormones and neurotransmitters. If this process is sluggish, well there's got to be some effect.
To treat depression we often "move" and "nourish" the liver. Coffee stimulates the Liver/Gallbladder system. People often find that a cup of coffee in the morning keeps their bowls "regular". This is because coffee stimulates the gallbladder to secrete bile. So we can we can see that one has to be careful in the dosage of this stimulating substance. We might want to move the Liver, but probably not to Kansas. People who are sensitive to caffeine should be more cautious. Unfortunately, the study didn't find decaf to have any effect on depression.
Those concerned with calcium loss with coffee should note that studies only fine a loss of 2-4 mg per cup. Coffee is a diuretic so be careful to drink enough non-caffeinated liquids to make up for this. Dark roast coffee has less caffein and acids than lighter roasts - so surprise, that expresso after dinner will affect your sleep less than regular! See grandma was right!
Forget cebiche, tamales, aerepas, flautas or Argentinian steak - the national dish for all Latin America has to be the ham and cheese sandwich. On planes, on buses, and when everything else is closed, there always seems to be a place you can get one. They even served it in the dairy shop here in Huanuco right along side the fresh cheese, yogurt, flan and tapioca type pudding. (OK they also had Jello.)
For a Chinese dietary take on this combination, think damp. The pork itself is rather neutral and like most meat supports the Spleen in it´s mission to make Blood. It´s the processing that kicks up the dampness rating. Bread and cheese are both thought to generate fluids. (nothing special about the quotes here I just couldn't find the quotation marks on the keyboard I´m using at the hotel.) The sandwich is really not an issue if you´re living in a dry climate like the Andes in Peru, but might be a consideration everywhere else.
If you're trying to gain weight, the ham and cheese sandwich can help. People with sinusitis, cough or who easily gain weight may want to limit consumption, however. Those with hypertension, may want to watch the salt content. For everyone else, though, I guess you can´t argue with a classic. For the vegetarian you can hold the ham.
Dairy Cafe, Huanuco, Peru August 2011
This is the season where zucchini's rule. Huge leafy plants 4-5 feet around that produce an abundance of squash, zucchini exemplifies the good news/bad news line. The good news: we have bunches of zucchini. The bad news: we have bunches of zucchini!
Zucchini is a great vegetable for the season. It supports the Earth element, dominant in late summer, and generates fluids. One cup sliced only has 29 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 7 grams of carbs and even has a gram of protein! It also has vitamins A, C, K, minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. For more info check this link.
So how do you cook this wonder veggie? Zucchini parmigiana? Zucchini juice ( actually zucchini juice works quite well with carrot). Please send in your ideas and recipes? Thanks. (I got about 25 pounds of zucchini last weekend! I had a couple of extra plants because I thought the first few I planted were not going to make it. I was wrong.)
Usually street food should bring to mind two words "tengo miedo". I am afraid - and very afraid you should often be. Sun, questionable water and questionable fish can be a problem. The street food looks great, but is best left to charming photos unless you know the vendor.
In this case I did. OK not well, but my friend vouched for their reliability. The head Maria carefully described the pure water and disinfectant type products used. She showed me the ice packs for keeping things cold. She told me of the same day trip to the coast to procure the freshest product. Shrimp, shark and faux crab were combined with onion, Worcestershire sauce, cilantro, lime juice, a little tabasco, tomato and a little salt.
My friend ate a full size portion and now several hours later is still fine. So if you are in Panajachel
make sure to go to the lake and feel confident in trying this ceviche (really a generous size portion!) It´s only going to be available until Easter.
Now if you are in New York, the street vendor hot dogs should bring to mind two words ¨"tengo miedo".
The sour flavor of lemons has an affinity for the Liver. A little each day stimulates the Liver/Gallbladder system. Many people start each day with a little warm water with lemon juice in it to help get things moving.
Pickled Turnips - The Pickle Guys, Essex Street NYC
Happy New Year everyone! According to the Chinese astrological calendar we are now in the year of the Rabbit - the Yin Metal Rabbit. Last week was also once again National Shape Up with Pickles week and yes, there is a relationship and no, I will not be talking about rabbit recipes (card carrying PETA member that I am.)
The Metal Rabbit year and pickles relationship comes via something called "Five Phase Theory." The Chinese worldview includes five elemental influences, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, which affect just about everything in life. In medicine these elements are associated with specific organ systems: Wood with the Liver and Gallbladder, Fire with the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and San Jiao (an extra organ with no western equivalent), Earth with the Spleen and Stomach, Metal with the Lung and Large Intestine and Water with the Kidney and Bladder. Each element in clockwise fashion is said to "generate" the next while balance is maintained by a "control" cycle.
In the Chinese Zodiac each animal year is also associated with an element, both a "fixed" one and one that changes, cycling through the generation cycle of the Five Phases. This year we have a Metal Rabbit, but the Rabbit's fixed element is Wood. In this system Metal "controls" Wood. Think axe chops wood. It's a delicate balance that when working can give us order and calmness like the energetic predictions for this coming year. You can also think this control cycle as a lab and pit bull mix. If everything is good you have a confident and friendly dog. If things get out of balance you have a dog with an inherent conflict manifesting as anxiety disorder.
Anyway back to the food. The Metal element is associated with certain foods and flavors as is the Wood element and interestingly a lot of foods that are involved in pickling have some Metal association. Capers, garlic and dill are pungent (the flavor of Metal); carrots, herring and radish affect the lung; cabbage, cucumber, turnip and eggplant affect the Large Intestine. The process of pickling itself involves the sour flavor. Sour is associated with the Liver. Vinegar is thought to be moving, but again we have a balance. Vinegar moves, but it's flavor, sour astringes. The pickled carrot may move the Lung Qi, but not to Kansas.
Half Sours, Okra, Mushrooms, and even Pineapple at the Pickle Guys on Essex
1. Eating the Five Flavors (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Spicy and Bitter) balances your diet in the same way that the Five Phases balance everything else.
2. Pickles besides taking care of the sour element have a lot of generally acknowledged health benefits. Small quantities at the beginning of a meal stimulate digestive juices. Naturally fermented pickles especially help promote a good balance of bacteria in the gut and have naturally occuring enzymes with also help with digestion.
3. This year we may want to pay particular attention to keeping our Lungs and Liver in good shape. For those of you considering one more attempt at detox, consider adding a small amount of picked onions or radish to your diet. (Both Lungs and Liver are principal organs involved in detoxification.)
4. Chinese New Year's is another opportunity to revive those January resolutions to take care of your health. Check back for additional tips and recipes. I resolve to post more regularly!
My Uncle Ilo (short for Italo) always said that one should eat onions and garlic to improve one's voice. I, of course, did not believe him one bit. I was very young. He was very old and his main credentials seemed to have been playing piano for silent films and getting us all lost with his "short cuts" driving one place to the next. ( He could easily turn a half hour trip into 3.)
Turns out, Ilo was right. The Greeks and Romans also credited the allium family (this includes onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and scallions) with voice benefitting effects. Nero was said to have eaten a plate of leeks a day for this purpose while Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet with leeks. Maybe Uncle Ilo and these guys talked. In Chinese medicine onions and the alliums in general are thought to be pungent in nature. They break things up, "dispersing" being the commonly used term. Onions break up and help disperse phlegm. This is of great benefit to anyone with "a frog in their throat".
Chomping on onions, thought, is not always practical. Traditionally a syrup was made that was easier to take. The classic recipe was pretty simple:
In a small glass jar layer chopped/sliced onion with brown sugar. Cover and after a couple of days on the counter a syrup will form from the moisture in the onions. You drain the syrup from the jar and refrigerate. Take a tablespoon to help relieve hoarseness or a cough.
This type of preparation may have some risk, however. There is a slight chance that leaving the onion on the counter will encourage the growth of bacteria. This is a similar warning given to people infusing olive oil with garlic or lemon peels.
There are a couple of work-arounds though. If you have a juicer, you can juice an onion or two and mix this with honey (preferable because you get all the benefits of honey) or a simple syrup. If you juice you may want to make some extra and save it in the freezer in an ice cube tray so you can pop out a cube whenever you need it. Traditionally you can actually use the pulp as a poultice over your sinuses on the face or on your chest or back for congestion and cough. Think mustard plaster. You have to be careful, though. Like the mustard plaster this can be irritating and if you're sensitive can leave a rash. Onions near the eyes can also cause tearing. Perhaps you should save the onion pulp for meatloaf or veggie burgers.
No juicer? No problem! Chop unions and simmer in enough water to cover the onions to make a strong onion tea - about 10 minutes or so. Strain the liquid (reserving the pulp for some other purpose). Take the liquid and add an equal amount of sugar and heat slowly to make a simple syrup. Refrigerate.
If you'd like you can mix a little alcohol (citrus based ones would be best) with this for that OTC alcohol based cough syrup effect. (Though no cough suppressant or acetaminophen here!)
Next posts will outline some variations on this theme and some really great alcohol infusions you can make at home!
FYI click on this link to hear one of Uncle Ilo's most frequently played selections. (Unfortunatly we never got a recoding of Uncle Ilo playing it, but Debbie Reynolds did a rousing rendition in 1950!)
Ok maybe you're one of the very health aware people who knew that January is National Glaucoma Month and you've been doing all kinds of good things for your eyes all month. More likely, you're among the many who have been looking at glowing screens way too long and have dry, red and irritated eyes.
Either way, this recipe is for you. In Chinese medicine the eyes have an association with the Liver. Dry irritated eyes could be the result of a "Liver Blood" or "Liver Blood and Kidney Yin" deficiency. (Liver Blood and Kidney Yin deficiency can cause a lot of problems among them menopausal symptoms so if you've been told that this is your "pattern" this recipe would also apply.)
Raisins, like other berries, benefit the Liver, fish tends to build yin while the sour flavor of the vinegar also has a Liver affinity. The sour flavor also astringes which balances the dispersing nature of the onions. The onions, by their dispersing nature, help keep things from being too heavy.
1 pound of mild flavored fish, tilapia and haddock would be good choices. I used sole because it looked the best today
1 medium/large size onion sliced thinly. I used a yellow onion because I had , but other types of onions would work just as well
1/3 cup raisins - I used the lighter variety, because I liked the way it looked, but the regular dark ones are just fine
3 tablespoons rice vinegar or chinese cooking wine - the wine is made from rice and has salt added alcohol would lend a "moving" quality - if you use the cooking wine still add a little vinegar to get the sour flavor
3 tablespoons of water
1-2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts - not too many due to their oily nature
A few leaves of cilantro or parsley
Sea salt to taste
Citrus zest (optional, I didn't use it because I didn't have any, but it's really good if you do have it and helps regulate Qi too!)
Enough olive oil to saute the onions
Soak raisins in water to rehydrate them
Saute the onions in a frying pan that you can find the lid to. Season with salt while cooking. You want to cook the onions slowly here - cook till soft, but not brown. Add the raisins and mix. Then play the fish on top of the onions, season with a little salt, add vinegar/wine and water and cover. Don't leave the kitchen because the fish will cook in a few minutes. It's basically steaming which preserves the Yin. Before serving add a few nuts, cilantro and citrus zest.
Feel free to play with the ingredient amounts. This is cooking, not baking or rocket science. You may want it more sour - add more vinegar. The recipe will then be a bit more astringent. Don't use too much alcohol, though, as that would make the dish too warming and moving for the purpose of moisturizing. (Alcohol and certain deserts - well that's a different matter and post. - soon, I promise!)
Happy January and happy second season of Dryness! Yes, traditionally in Chinese medicine Fall is the season of dryness, but having been to China, I now realize that's because they don't have the drying radiator heat so prevalent in the US Northeast.
Dry sinuses, dry eyes, dry skin - it all seems to get worse in the winter. So, it's really important to nourish the Yin during the winter. Soup is the perfect food for this time of year. It's warm to support the body during the coldness of the season, yet still brings fluids to the party.
Soup is extremely versatile, allowing you to customize for your specific needs. If you're a little blood deficient, you can have soups with meat or red or black beans, if you have hypertension, celery or tomato soup would be an excellent choice.
For general dryness though, pear and apple soups are great. Asian pears particularly help moisten the Lung and the Lung in Chinese medicine also governs the skin. Dry hacking cough, dry nose, itchy skin - pears are your friend. You can of course eat pears or cook them in some other way, but making them into a soup adds moisture and gives you the option of adding some embellishments.
For those of you liking detailed recipes, Allrecipes has an interesting pear/apple soup. My version is a little more specific to supporting the Lung/Kidney, and perhaps a bit more free form.
4 large pears
The juice of a fresh lemon
About 2.5 of water or better yet, coconut water
A cinnamon stick, a few cardamon pods, a couple of star anise, a few slices of fresh ginger or a tablespoon of ginger syrup
About a tablespoon of honey or more to taste
A pinch of salt
A few tablespoons of unsweetened thick coconut milk/cream or more to make more creamy (I used the Taste of Thai brand)
Core and chop the pears
Combine ingredients in a saucepan bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the pears are tender.
Allow to cool a bit especially if you're using a conventional blender to process in the next step.
Remove the cinnamon, cardamon, anise and ginger slices
Blend with an immersion or conventional blender until smooth ( the immersion blender is easier)
Lemon and/or orange zest makes a great garnish.
The addition of the aromatics here helps "disperse" the Lung - they help the lung function better. The coconut cream nourishes the Kidney (important during the winter)and generates fluids, while at the same time supports Yang (the functional aspect of the body).
Depending upon your goals and taste you can play with the ingredients - concerned about some phlegm - up the ginger and other spices and reduce the coconut milk and honey. More concerned about dry skin - up the coconut milk. Hate cardamon - leave it out! Facing January is difficult enough. Have enough soup and you may even be able to use your Hello Kitty humidifier less often!