Winter recipe: Lamb Angelica Soup

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This recipe is actually based on a formula from an herbal classic (金匮要略 Jin Gui Yao Lue, Prescriptions from the Golden Cabinet, by the famous herbalist 张仲景 Zhang Zhong Jing), in which is is called 当归生姜羊肉汤 Dang Gui Sheng Jiang Yang Rou Tang.

The soup is warming, so it’s great for winter, and especially for those with Blood Deficiency (e.g. pale, dry skin, lips and tongue, dry scalp/hair, possible insomnia, dull headaches, and general achiness) and/or Kidney Yang weakness, which manifests as chronic, dull low back pain, frequent clear and copious urine, cold legs or overall body (do you wear more clothes than other people?), looser bowel movements, possible reproductive health issues. READ MORE

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Spring Health Tips and Recipes

Spring is a time of re­birth, cleansing, and renewal. In Chinese medicine, Spring is the time of the Wood element, or ‘Liver’ energy system (TCM ‘Liver’ is not the same as your physical liver organ).

The ‘Liver’ circulates energy (Qi) and blood around your body and is responsible for clear vision and direction in life, creativity, assertion, calm, and regular menstruation. A balanced Liver is pivotal to the maintenance of good health, and one of the most susceptible to emotional stress.

Taking care of it preventatively can help avoid or reduce many chronic imbalances. In the face of life’s challenges and injustices, it is common to experience “Liver Qi Stagnation”, which feels like:

Physically
•       body pains, stiffness and tension (especially neck, back and hips)
•       digestive problems, e.g. bloating, heartburn, reflux, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
•       PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome), breast distention, painful/irregular periods
•       difficulty rising in the mornings
•       a “wiry” (tense-­feeling) pulse

Emotionally
•       feeling frustrated, irritable, angered, negative, or depressed (if we suppress our anger)
•       emotional ups and downs
•       difficulty expressing ourselves or addressing conflicts constructively
•       feeling stuck, uncreative, inflexible, or without a clear vision and purpose in life

A Quick Liver Stagnation Remedy

Liver Stagnation Recipe
If you experience many of the above signs, this recipe is great to quickly stimulate the Liver out of its stagnancy.

If you have heat signs (red face, red, dry eyes, splitting headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, dry constipation, etc.), replace the vinegar below with lemon or lime juice. This recipe is helpful in the short term but shouldn’t replace making longer-term dietary or lifestyle changes you want to make (for your Liver’s sake)

Ingredients
• 1 tsp unrefined vinegar (e.g. apple cider, brown rice, rice wine vinegar)
• 1 tsp raw honey
• 1 cup warm water

Keep a Happy Liver
The Liver is one of the most involved organs in emotional processing. How emotions affect our physical health and vice versa is an exciting area of research and exploration these days. Check out this article I wrote about emotions and your body.

So, how can we keep our ‘Liver’ (not the anatomical liver, by the way) systems happy this season?

• Laugh! Prioritize fun, relaxation, and enjoying the moment (meditation helps with this!)
• Find friends & safe spaces where we can assert and express ourselves (creatively too)
• Practice being thankful for what we have now, focusing less on what we are dissatisfied with
• Seek support/ways to let go of, move through, or find peace with old emotions. Remember that spring is a time of new beginnings, and the Liver gets stuck with holding old grudges.
• Yoga, tai chi, expressive movement, acupuncture, herbs and massage all move stuck Qi

Nutritionally, many people gravitate toward cleansing during the Spring. Speak to your TCM practitioner about what kind of cleanse would work best for your body type. Also ask about personalized herbal formulas that can help.

Eat Your Greens
ASPARAGUS
Green is the colour of the Liver and Spring (according to Chinese Five Element theory).

Enjoy plenty of young plants, greens, sprouts, mung beans, radishes, and lightly cooked foods. Use less fats, salts, processed foods, and strong spices in cooking. Honey­mint tea and herbs such as basil, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, fennel, chamomile, chrysanthemum, dandelion root, milk thistle seeds, peony root, lemon balm, peppermint, etc. are all helpful to balance the Liver.

AsparagusAsparagus is one of the first vegetables ready for harvest in the spring. See below for delicious seasonal recipes to help your Liver Qi flow:

1. Warm Asparagus Salad with Basil + Mint Pistou

2. No-Cream Pasta Primavera


Enjoy!
 For a personalized Chinese medicine assessment, nutritional and other recommendations, contact me.

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Simple Winter Recipes

Winter Warming Breakfast Cereal

Winter Warming Breakfast Cereal

This quick breakfast can warm you from the inside out, strengthen the foundation of your body’s energy, and having you ready to face the cold weather outside!

Chinese Medicine agrees with the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 7:00 to 9:00 am is the time of the day when energy concentrates in our Stomach. Our Yang (active, warming) energy is growing at that time in the morning, and we need good fuel to support the rest of the day. Here’s some basic steps to make a quick, nutritious hot cereal to support your Kidney-Adrenal system and to warm the body.

Optional prep: 

  • Soak 10-15 goji berries for 5-15 minutes, if desired (to remove red dye on many of the commercially available berries). Discard the soak water and rinse again. I find if I use organic berries they don’t seem to have much colour come off. Recently popularized in Western nutrition, Goji berries (a.k.a. wolfberries) have long been used in Chinese medicine to support the Kidney-adrenal system, longevity, vitality, and the eyes in particular.
  • Also optional: in a pan, dry-fry almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and/or unsweetened coconut flakes until lightly toasted to use as toppings (don’t do all these all at once as they take different amounts of time to toast well). You can toast a larger quantity at once and keep in the fridge, ready to go in the morning.)

Main recipe:

  1. Put 1 cup of water in a pot on to boil
  2. While boiling, add the goji berries.
  3. Measure 1/3 cup of steel cut oats and add to the water (while or after boiling), with a pinch of sea salt or seaweed (e.g. dulse, ground wakame – excellent for minerals and to support the Kidney-Adrenals… don’t add too much if you don’t want the fishy sea taste!)
  4. When water boils, turn down to a simmer
  5. Add 5-10 raisins or other small dried fruit pieces
  6. Add dried and ground warming spices: cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon best if you can find it), dried ginger (change to fresh if you’re coming down with a cold), nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, etc.
  7. Cut up an apple (or half an apple, depending how large it is). If you are really trying to minimize Dampness (mucus, Candida, etc.) in the body, berries may be better.
  8. Depending on the cut of the oatmeal, it will cook in approx 5-12 minutes
  9. Add apple (and coconut, if using) to the pot 2 minutes before you take it off the stove
  10. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds (yellow sesame is okay too, but black is even better for the Kidney-Adrenals), almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc. to taste.
  11. If desired, can add almond or rice milk, and/or sweetener (honey, maple syrup, unsugared jam, etc.)

Variations

  • Dry-toast the actual oats, or toast with a bit of coconut oil, before adding the water to boil – this adds a really hardy, delicious flavour, and increases the warmth of the grain from a Chinese medicine point of view.
  • Vary the grains (I like whole grain kamut, quinoa, millet, rice cereal, etc.)
  • Vary the toppings and the flavours (e.g. banana is nice if you don’t have too much Dampness, i.e. excessive mucus symptoms – ask your practitioner. Pear is moistening if you have a dry throat or cough, etc.)

Cooked Pressed Winter Salad
From Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods.

  • Use one or more leafy greens: kale, bok choy, chard, watercress, cabbage, or parsley.
  • Plunge whole leaves into scalding water and cook 2-3 minutes.
    • Method 1: Roll leaves in a bamboo mat and press out excess water.
    • Method 2: Place leaves on a plate. Cover with a flat dish. Put a weight on top. Let stand 30 minutes. Pour off water.
  • Chop finely.
  • Add miso, toasted nuts or seeds, or salad dressing.

2014-01-22 17.37.15Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Did you know brussel sprouts can be absolutely delicious? They’re a perfect winter green, hardy and hearty, and I’ve surprised many people by making them delicious and desirable.

As members of the Brassica family (including broccoli, kale, turnip, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), in Chinese medicine’s view, they help move Liver Qi Stagnation – this means they have a mild effect on improving and unblocking energy circulation. Qi Stagnation is a very common factor in imbalances, pains, and chronic illness. The National Cancer Institute in the US recommends Brassica vegetables for its anti-cancer, antioxidant properties.

Generally, you wash and cut the brussel sprouts in half, season them, and roast for about 25 minutes on 375F, turning once or twice for even roasting. Check on them: you’ll want them tender and still somewhat bright green, not overcooked and dull-looking. Here are my favourite ways of seasoning (do this before cooking):

  • coconut oil or butter, plus garlic (in whole cloves, or diced and mixed in), salt and pepper (generously)
  • toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar and then toss again with olive oil (or coconut oil, but I prefer olive oil with the balsamic), then salt and pepper
  • toss with red onion slivers, olive oil, salt and pepper for the first 20 minutes. Then 5 minutes before done, add a drizzle of maple syrup and some chopped walnuts. Yum!

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Eat your greens! Easy, super-healthy dressing

Not to brag, but I often get compliments on my salad dressings! 🙂 I use it on all veggies, not just raw, cold salads, which aren’t so ideal in the cold winter months (according to Chinese medicine we should eat ‘warmer’ food during the winter, and less cold/raw food).

saladdressingHaving a delicious dressing in the fridge makes eating veggies easy. Steam, stir-fry, water-saute, bake, or press and roll leafy green or other vegetables. Drizzle with dressing and eat!  By drizzling an uncooked dressing, you avoid heating any oils, which is better for your Liver (in Chinese medicine), digestion and skin.

I don’t usually follow a recipe. Here’s a template you can adapt to whatever ingredients you have or feel like:

  1. Put some oil in a small jar. I usually use extra virgin olive oil as the base, but any good quality unheated/ unrefined, unsaturated oil is good (for more info on oils, read “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill” by Udo Erasmus). I might add a bit of flax or hemp oil for the Omega benefits. If I’m going for sesame kind of taste, I might add a bit of roasted sesame oil.
  2. Add something acidic: I like to squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice, or use raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar which has many health benefits. Sometimes I use a bit of balsamic as well, for the taste. I put about the same amount of acid as oil, but you can vary this according to taste.
  3. Add a tiny bit of sweetener: A very small amount of raw honey, maple syrup, green stevia or any sweetener helped round out the taste of the dressing
  4. Add salt, pepper, and garlic: To taste, but be generous. Remember the flavour can be very strong because it’ll be drizzled over, and diluted by, the many vegetables you’ll be eating with the dressing! Garlic can be raw (crushed and finely minced), which has many health (and taste) benefits, or dried.
  5. Add tasty bits (optional): For example, a squirt of dijon mustard, a chopped sundried tomato, dried or fresh dill weed, yogurt (start with less oil), and/or diced avocado (start with a bit less oil).
  6. Shake jar and enjoy! Depending on the ingredients you can probably keep it in the fridge for a week (if you have something like yogourt) or much longer if it’s just dried herbs, oil and vinegar.

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5 Food Tips for Stress and Anxiety

mainimage1) It’s not just WHAT we eat, but HOW.  Many of us rush around trying to meet obligations and deadlines, and a strict diet can definitely become one more stressor, one more thing to be hard on ourselves for. Step One can be just scheduling in enough time to sit down and focus on enjoying and savouring our food, chewing it thoroughly (not watching TV, reading or texting at the same time).  When we scarf down our food and barely chew it, our body has to work hard to absorb the nutrients. We end up with digestive issues, get hungry soon afterward, and may be wasting all the extra money we spend on choosing organic or “healthy” foods.

So keep this in mind when you read the rest of this article!  WHATEVER you’re eating, as “good” or “bad” as it might be, the MOST IMPORTANT THING IS JUST ENJOY IT! Pleasure and presence is healing!

2) Eat regular meals.  That’s right, try to eat at roughly similar times each day, and sit down for your meal, instead of grazing and snacking on the run throughout the day. Many people struggle with craving foods they know contribute to anxiety and chronic health issues (like sugar or baked goods with wheat, dairy, etc.).  Regularity helps our digestive system know when to turn on and off (which is part of the “rest and digest” versus “stress/fight or flight” nervous system balance), and helps prevent erratic blood sugar highs and crashes that increase anxiety and stress.

3) Eat whole, unprocessed grains. Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, whole millet, rye, whole or steel cut oats, etc.) contain important stress-reducing nutrients that refined and processed grains (most breads and pastas, white rice or flour, etc.) don’t. Refined grains act more like sugar, i.e. leading to blood sugar peaks and crashes that can contribute to stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, the germ and bran in whole grains are considered “bitter” in Chinese medicine. This means they can “cool down” the Heart, decreasing anxiety and insomnia. In Western food science, B vitamins, magnesium and other essential nutrients are contained in the germ and bran. Whole wheat, brown rice and oats specifically calm the mind, according to Chinese medicine (caution that many people don’t digest wheat very well, especially North American strains of wheat that have been highly modified).

4) Eat lots of veggies, especially leafy greens. The cabbage family (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.), beets, radishes and mildly pungent spices and herbs (basil, dill, coriander, etc.) all especially help to clear and move stagnation in our energetic “Liver” organ system, which holds much of our stress. Foods with a “bitter” quality can also be helpful to calm the “Heart” and “Liver” systems, contributing to emotional balance (e.g. rye, romaine, asparagus, quinoa, dandelion root, chamomile, etc.).

5) Balance your caffeine intake. Some people can take more coffee than others. However, even if we don’t notice, most people do feel at least a bit of increased nervousness, mental agitation, or “buzz-crash” cycle. Caffeine makes your adrenals pump out more stress-coping hormones, which can help deal with an immediate need for more attention/alertness. Over the long run, our adrenals can get fatigued and cope less well with stress on their own. So depending on coffee to keep going can be a “short-term gain, long-term lose” situation, and lead to greater stress, fatigue, and anxiety overall.  Make sure to drink at least 2 cups of water for each cup of coffee you drink, and explore alternative energy boosters like exercise, fresh air, and sleeping earlier!

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Two Anti-Anxiety (vegan, gluten-free) recipes

Vegan soup with mung bean and kaleI’ve chosen and adapted two vegan, gluten-free recipes below, for their anti-anxiety ingredients (based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine analysis of these foods).

Mung Bean and Kale Soup (serves ~6)

  • 1 tablespoon refined organic coconut oil
  • 20-25 small crimini (or white) mushrooms, cubed
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 organic red pepper, cubed
  • 1 bunch organic lacinato kale, deveined, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 organic roma tomatoes
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 small bunch basil leaves
  • 11/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried seaweed (wakame, dulse, etc)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional – omit for increased anti-anxiety benefits)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 cup small green lentils
  • 1/2 cup mung beans
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy deep pot or dutch oven, then add and sautee the cubed mushrooms, onions, and red bell peppers with turmeric and cumin until tender, about 7-8 minutes.
  2. Add the lentils, mung beans, crushed pepper, seaweed, salt and about 3-4 cups of water (or broth of choice), and allow them to cook (simmer) covered for about 30-35 minutes (check to make sure they are cooked and tender-you may need to adjust your water, as in, add more).
  3. when the lentils and mung beans are cooked and tender, add the quinoa, cubed tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, kale, and most (3/4) of your coconut milk.
  4. simmer another 10-15 minutes. add your freshly squeezed lemon juice (adjust amount to your taste, or omit). top with chopped basil and your remaining coconut milk. serve hot.

Modified from this recipe

Calming and Balancing Congee (2-3 servings)

  • Job’s Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30 g
  • Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 / 龍眼肉 – 30 g
  • Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
  • Lotus Seeds (lian zi) 莲子 – 30 g
  • Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30 g
  • Brown rice (can pre-blend in blender to encourage it to fall apart more) – half cup
  • Raw honey, to taste

1. Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
2. Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 70 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
3. Add some raw honey, if preferred.

Modified from this recipe.

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