Exciting Variety in Natural Foods

Sometimes we get caught in patterns….patterns of behaviour, thinking, eating etc. As long as we have cultivated good habits among these patterns, it’s probably a good idea to have them. Adding variety to our foods is also a good habit.
Eating the same foods everyday is not really a bad thing, assuming it’s ‘clean eating’. One needs to understand though that food is actually a medicine as well. The nutrients that our body needs gets covered by the variety in natural foods. Therefore, at certain times we need to change what we eat to keep optimum health.
For example, if we have a sore throat, a ginger herbal infusion with a little honey and peppercorn is a great remedy. In case of sleepless nights, a mint infusion with jaggery walnuts( refer ‘tea time walnuts’ blog post) is a good idea. Similarly, curd with salt and pepper could be consumed on a day of stomach flu.

Try it! Be open minded to gifts of nature....

Changing foods according to season is a done thing for some of us but its also about adding variety to our daily diets for discovering a vast resource for nutrients. For example, if you start logging your food intake, you may realise it’s time (mostly) to get in a wider choice of vegetables and fruits. Seasonal fruits and vegetables go missing from our diets because we may get caught in the web of ‘ favourites’. Maybe we even miss out on certain herbs or spices . We need not have an aversion to say mangoes, banana, bitter gourd, cinnamon or any such natural food because every food item has a unique nutrient or combination of such to offer. Frankly, eating the same foods day in and day out could cause certain deficiencies and for some, get us to a plateau in our quests for weight loss.

Spices for flavour and remedies...

So the next time you go food shopping, train your eye for more colour and variety for farm fresh produce, not just go by attractive packaging that some corporations have trained us for. You will be surprised at the colours, textures and pure choices nature has to offer us. It’s almost overwhelming to see how mother nature has created the most effective remedies in her garden of regular and exotic fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
What are we really open to, in our minds, for our health? Do we scrounge up our noses for Brussel sprouts, bitter gourd, squash, turmeric or what have you…? It’s time to be aware of their unique offerings. It’s time to shut down towards processed junk and open up to variety in natural foods. Getting obsessive with foods is quite a crime if we just rely on taste. Let’s put our education to good use and remember there is a nutritive value attached to foods. Although I would not recommend foods that are out of season, frozen or out of our climate zones. Stick to simply what is naturally available and in abundance. That’s all. These choices are quite the opposite of ‘obsessive’ , would you say? Yet…. most ‘aware’ !

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Kids’ Menus

How often have we thought of healthy meals for ourselves? How often have we thought of healthy meals for our kids? If the answer to both these questions is the same and affirmative , there is nothing to worry. More than usual though, that is not the case.

Naturally, most kids enjoy raw fruits and vegetables and they like to eat small meals throughout the day. Both are characteristics of a proper diet. Fats, refined sugars and refined carbohydrates are all unnatural foods that have crept into our diets due to man made processed foods. Their advertisements are also ‘oh! so catchy’ -children have gotten accustomed to these foods and will grow up thinking it’s OK. That could be a disaster to their health. The only relief being nothing happens overnight. A slow and steady reversal of this thought process will negate the bad effects on their bodies.

Creative and Healthy!

Urban lifestyles today offer food varieties such as pizzas, cakes ,cookies, chips, candies, burgers, high sodium mac and cheese packets, sodas, ice creams in various flavors etc in such an abundant supply (with great packaging to attract our kids) . Our children have high energy activities and if one goes by the assumption that high intensity exercises will negate the calories of these foods, we could not be further from the truth. You would have heard ‘ every calorie is not the same’. That means a 100 calories from almonds is not the same as a 100 calories from a cheeseburger. The nutritional value of a food is actually pretty much common sense. Everyone knows leafy greens, fresh fruits, vegetables and basically foods as close to their natural state as possible are great for health. How good is it or rather, how bad are the White refined flours or sugars, is where everyone gets disconnected from reality. That’s why we see such a sudden rise in kids’ obesity, diabetes ,cancer, hypertension and other such scary diseases. It’s now a known fact that diet and health are correlated , we certainly can’t be so oblivious to that fact whenever we feed our kids sodas, burgers and chips!
The muscles in our bodies are at their optimum best with clean eating and including protein and produce. All professional athletes know that and their diets are planned accordingly. What stops us from letting our kids thrive? Our laziness? Come on , maybe it’s time we discover amazing energy by eating such foods ourselves first. :-)

Here’s a primary list for ‘our kids to thrive’:

1. Review the foods that we keep at home and thus serve our children. Get rid of the processed foods, get lots of fruits and vegetables.
2. Cut and keep the vegetables in handy packs with dips like hummus, yoghurt, salsa or guacamole.
3. Put the fruits out on the dining table at all times and if the weather doesn’t permit, at an accessible shelf in the fridge.
4. Squeeze lemons and keep everyday for lemonades.
5. Use a combination of 3-4 raw vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers , sprouts, beetroots, corn ,romaine or iceberg at all meal times for salads.
6. Flavor water with lemon slices or mint and chill.
7. Make and keep ice lollies in the freezer with fresh fruit juices like water melon or oranges or kiwis or whatever they like.
8. Make smoothies with fresh fruits and milk or yoghurt everyday. Adding dates or raisins will make smoothies sweeter. Green smoothies are a great evening snack.
9. Recipe tips: Keep it simple eg. Freezing mashed bananas and raisins with cinnamon are a great dessert, freeze yoghurt with any cut fruits and garnish with crushed nuts in summers for snacks, make whole wheat pastas with fresh tomato purees, slice a cucumber with cheese for snack, hard boil eggs with salsa for snack, add spinach wraps ( wrap a leaf of spinach on a sliced tomato) to a meal. Being creative is fun when the only raw materials we work with are as close to how nature intended them to be.

Basically, every time a child is hungry, he needs to have an availability of healthy foods at home. If no alternatives are kept, the child will not be averse to a fresh mango and milk for snack.There are many fun and healthy ideas, we just need the right ingredients. So, going over our groceries is a first.
Above all, be a good example yourself – of eating great food and choosing the best options when going out. If you can make it look fun, it will be even better. The reward is a lifetime habit of eating well for our precious children. Patience is key, the rule being no forceful eating. All the best!

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Raw Mango Drink ( Aam Panna)

Mango is the national fruit of India and there are various ways to consume it : raw, in chutneys,  as a smoothie ( yoghurt and ripe mango blended ), as aam ras( milk, sugar and ripe mango), cut ripe fruit, mango powder for cooking etc. Harvest time is summer. Consuming seasonal fruits is one of the best ways to enjoy a particular season. Year round availability of certain foods which are flown from around the world sounds great but our bodies do better with seasonal foods instead as per the climate zone that we are in.
Mangoes are rich in vitamins and essential minerals. They are low on sodium, saturated fats and cholesterol and are essentially carbohydrates with a small percentage of protein. Raw mangoes offer good doses of Vitamin C, A and K. A refreshing summer drink is made with them called ‘panna’.

Young and raw- flavourful!

Here’s the recipe for unsweetened panna- and is not as sour as you may think. On the other hand, it is refreshing,flavourful and very healthy. When the sun is strong and the weather is hot, an aam panna relaxes and rejuvenates our tired bodies. It also allows us to enjoy the summer keeping us from dehydration.

Ingredients ( 6-8 servings) :

1. Raw Mango – 4 medium sized
2. Corriander – 10 gms
3. Mint leaves – 15 gms
4. Water – 1 cup for each mango -to boil , as per servings required to blend.

Method :

Wash and boil the mangoes ( 1 cup water for 1 mango) till tender( or pressure cook for 3-4 minutes). Finely chop coriander and mint leaves together and keep aside. Peel the mango skin and remove all the pulp from the mango and mix in the water used to boil them. Put this mixture in the blender and add the chopped leaves. Add cold water as per servings required to this concentrate and serve with crushed ice.
Note : Adding cold water and ice is as per personal choice. One can enjoy the panna even at room temperature or mildly cold.

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Sugar(contd.)- Refreshing Unsweetened Beverages

Hopefully the ‘raw foods as snacks’ week worked out well for everyone! The main idea being to know natural flavors of various foods especially sweet flavor. This natural sweet flavor is present in so many vegetables and fruits but we somehow cannot experience it if we are used to having refined sugar everyday ,even in small quantities.

Plain, anyone?

A good way to eliminate sugar from our lives is to not add any to our beverages and avoid sodas and packaged drinks. Here is a list of home made ( and easy to make) unsweetened beverages as a practical guide to clean up our diet of sugar:

1. Lemon with water or soda- Simple. Squeeze one whole lemon (assuming it is organic and not a giant sized) to a glass of water( 200 ml) or plain soda water.
2. Ginger lemon – Add juice of a whole lemon , tiny grated ginger and chopped mint leaves to a glass of water. Stir in a dash of roasted fennel before serving.
3. Cool water- To a jug of water, add a few fresh mint leaves. The flavor gets enhanced the whole day.
4. Herbal infusion- Boil some water with spices such as ( choose any one or two) ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek, basil, jasmine, cloves, fennel, cardamom, whole pepper for a few minutes and have hot, cool or cold.

Herbal Infusion

5. Green tea- try plain green tea without flavors as most of these flavors are extracts. In case you do like flavors, please add fresh only ( like ginger or lemon) and boil with the water before adding tea.
6. Black tea with lemon- self explanatory- can be had hot, cool or cold.
7. Flavored/masala tea- regular tea with milk ,with flavors. Eg. Boil water and little milk( water milk ratio 5:1) with ginger, cloves, fenugreek or cardamom. Add regular assam tea when the concoction boils and turn off heat . Strain immediately and have hot.TIP: while trying to quit sugar, fenugreek or cinnamon are good flavors to add as they are naturally sweet.
8. Fresh fruit juices: It s better to have a fruit instead, as we already discussed in a previous post on Juices. In case there is just no option ( although I think that is impossible if we think of plain water as an option and hunger better be tackled with food), be sure to not add any salt /sugar.
9. Milk – Plain, low fat
10. Yogurt drink : “Lassi” is a summer favourite. Add a scoop of plain low fat (or homemade)yogurt, add water and blend. For seasoning one can add roasted fennel.
11. Smoothie : Yogurt or milk based drinks- blend with fresh fruits/ vegetables and seeds. One can get interesting recipes on the internet.
12. Water- Best drink in town- for more see blog post ‘ How do you drink your water’.

Certain points to remember :

1. All beverages to be had from hot to cold generally and only from hot to room temperature after meals. That is because our meals are better digested in that temperature range.
2. Tea basics : not to be had on an empty stomach as it cuts off our tuning in to our body especially it’s hunger levels which means once we have tea we usually cannot tell if we are hungry and that is pretty much a blunder for our metabolism. Secondly, tea is addictive in nature, so it’s better to not form a habit of it and rather to use it as an option while indulging. I have seen many people who get acidity or other issues if they do not have their cuppa at a particular time everyday. If that is not addiction, what is?
3. Forming a habit of drinking plain water can be made usually by drinking plain water and not any other beverages. Tea/Coffee is a diuretic, fresh juices have too much fruit sugars, milk/yogurt have natural fat content incomparable to water.
4. Herbal infusions of cinnamon and cloves is better for the winter months.Basil infusion , mint water ,lemon ginger water, “lassi”, smoothies are better options for summer.
5. Drink habits( type of drink, temperature of drink etc) may change in different climate zones but sugar intake to zero is global. :-)

Water is a need when we feel really thirsty and at such times, no other drink does the job. Taking a cue from this, water is what our bodies really need. Something natural, organic and fresh is all that this temple of our body needs. Feeding it processed drinks (or food) or overly sweet (unnatural), is just a good way of adding fat and slow poison inside. For this, its a good idea to not buy flavored milk, flavored teas or flavored yogurt.Coffee without sugar is a start, reducing the number of cups in a day is the next step. De addiction to zero cups of tea or coffee is an advanced goal. I do recommend tackling just one habit at a time and then build a lifetime of health.

The right path is important and the pace is then up to you. Just remember to keep walking.Cheers!

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Sugar- How Sweet Is It?

Mmmmmm, if there is one addiction that is legal-it is of Sugar. Many of us know that feeling, that urge, that craving, that sweet sensation of mmmmmm once we put it in our mouths……… Good???NO! A simple ‘No’ for all added sugars. Our bodies can very well do without them , thank you!

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate characterized by a sweet flavor , usually with generic names ending with ‘ose’ like sucrose, lactose ,fructose and representing such carbohydrates which dissolve in water.Sucrose is what we mainly talk about here which is made from sugar cane and sugar beet, it is the most common form of table sugar and is also a major cause of tooth decay amongst many other ill effects. The sugars to beware from are these white crystalline table sugars and high fructose corn syrup( used in sodas and other processed foods). All minerals, vitamins and other nutrients are stripped off these white sugars. To metabolize refined sugar, our body needs to take certain essentials from itself, which causes an upset in mineral balance. Now that just cannot be good for our bones. Auto immune diseases, skin problems, depression and even cancer aggravation have been linked to consumption of refined and processed sugars.

Most processed foods are also laced with simple sugars, so it’s time to read those labels. The basic reason that sugar is no.1 to jeopardize our health goals is that it is not natural. The juice of sugar cane/beet goes through processes that strip it off nutrients completely and what we are left with is nothing but a ‘processed food’ which we have learnt over these posts is not to be confused with ‘real’ food. Unnatural and refined foods are typically heavy on the body and may taste great but cause a lot of havoc inside.

A can of soda will typically have sugar equivalent to about 10-12 spoonfuls of sugar. Consuming cookies, candies, sodas, added table sugar in homemade beverages and other desserts are purely a matter of habit. In case we wonder why we look like our mothers /fathers and God forbid, tend to have similar diseases, it is time we look into how similar are our eating habits to theirs. I have seen numerous friends who see these sweet foods as big a temptation as they have been unknowingly taught by their parents.

Enjoy natural flavours of foods

Before I go further , I would like to make clear that sugar substitutes are a bigger NO. They are a chemical and cause greater havocs in our bodies. A lot of people fool themselves by taking sugar substitutes freeing themselves of the guilt. My opinion- they couldn’t be further from the truth. For such people, I would say, please have a half spoon of sugar but do not continue with these chemicals. Stevia or agave nectar are two exceptions as I have learned but personally never used as I don’t have the need for added flavours.

For those of us who like desserts and sweet flavor please be informed that sugar is an addictive substance. Yes, it’s like a drug which you are addicted to. Do observe yourself what it feels to think about it, to see it and then to eat it. Now, look at a drug addict. Difference? …..No? A good way to avoid intake is to keep them at bay. Most of us cannot look squarely at desserts and not get tempted. That takes time, but believe me , it is possible. I firmly believe “A temptation is a temptation only if you think it is a temptation.” Makes sense to you? Try another one and read slowly : ” A temptation is not a temptation if you think of it as hazardous.”
Know what’s good and what’s bad for the body. Deprivation is just a word when you are healthy and happy…it just doesn’t carry any meaning anymore. How we deal with stress goes a long way into reading our food habits.You want to go to an astrologer to predict your life, I say just keep a food journal for a week. :-)

There are various benefits of not having sugar( read white sugar, honey, high corn fructose syrup, brown sugar) but according to me , the most important one is that of realizing how naturally sweet certain foods are. I would never know that earlier. I used to be a soda addict once upon a time and would add one(yes, a “harmless” only one) spoon of sugar in my tea. But upon realization and learning of the bad effects of sugar, I now love and appreciate a simple snack of cottage cheese and grapes way much more than I ever did knowing just how sweet each grape is. I now know how sweet cucumbers or carrots are.That’s only because my palate is no longer loaded with extra unnatural sweet flavor anymore. If I go out now, and someone gives me a tea with even a bit of sugar, I am repelled by the extra sweetness in it. It is just no longer drinkable.

Sugars found in fruits are not to be scared of if we keep away from other refined foods like white breads, white pastas etc. and not have a habit of juicing our fruits. I am just not sure how good they are as substitutes for desserts after foods. Some nutritionists point out that eating fruits after meals helps in increasing triglycerides in the body. Personally, I think we need to work on that sweet craving after food, which is a form of addiction and we all know – No addiction can really ever be good.

Keep a lookout for next week’s blog which will give a list of refreshing unsweetened beverages because they are usually the reason that our daily intake of sugar goes on an overdrive. Meanwhile, check out the natural sweet flavor in vegetables and fruits this week. For that I have a suggestion : have a ‘raw foods as snacks’ week.

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What about Carbs?

If there is one question that every fitness industry professional would have answered , it is this…” What about carbs?”. Carbohydrates are mostly misunderstood and thus feared. Some people totally quit “carbs” after 2 pm,some maybe 7 pm or some just “never touch” them. They can eat anything else…but carbs! Frankly, if you got to be scared of something…let that something be plain sugar (actually that’s also a carb!)

Firstly, it’s good to know that every food item can be broken into three main contributing nutrients- 1. Carbohydrates, 2. Proteins and 3. fats.The ratio of these three varies for every food item. So, basically every food that we put in our mouths have these three main nutrients and the rest being minerals,vitamins,water, antioxidants and others.
Carbohydrates are basically sugars or saccharides ie. a molecule of sugar consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in chains.When we eat carbs, our body breaks it into simple sugars which are absorbed in our bloodstreams. As this sugar level rises, the pancreas create a hormone called Insulin which helps in moving this sugar from the blood into the cells where it can be used as a source of energy.

Basically…fruits, vegetables, lentils, breads and other staples all have carbs. Now which has more carbs or which has less…may not matter as much as what kind of carb. Yes, that’s right-one way to classify carbs would be -simple sugars and complex starches. Another way to classify them would be according to the glycemic index( how long it takes to convert carbs into simple sugars in the body). Some more factors go into the making of ‘good for health’ carbs like fiber content – For eg. usually one would think that complex carbs are better, but not always so. Fructose( fruit sugar) is a simple carbohydrate but is low on it’s effect on blood sugar and therefore,makes it to the category of ‘good’ carbs. Now, depending on one’s physical condition and activity levels, carbohydrate intake is recommended.

Eating 'Good' carbs is good!

Confused? Well, don’t be because choosing the ‘Good’ carbohydrates is wiser than “no carbohydrates”. Examples of ‘good’ carbohydrates being fruits, milk, multigrain and wholegrain cereals, vegetables, beans/lentils. Is there really a reason to avoid these? Not at all. One can’t even fear over indulgence in these because of their compositions.Unrefined and unprocessed carbs is a good way to remember ‘good for health’ carbs. Keeping in mind that we eat in balance, which would mean about 50% nutrition coming from carbs, we would lead energy filled lives. Since most of us are not athletes, we need not eat staples like rice, bread or pastas ( I’m assuming it all by now to be brown, wholegrain and whole wheat in that order) at each and every meal in case we are looking for the famous six pack abs. Getting our handful from healthy fats like nuts and seeds and lean proteins like plant based or White meats is enough to keep us going ……and going very well indeed.
India needs a special mention here as it is definitely a land of high carbs. ‘Dal chawal’( rice and lentils), samosas, bhel puri mix, dhoklas, papri chaat, nan/paranthas,bhujia, dahi bhallas, sambar dosa, idlis, vadas, matar kulchas, choley bhaturey, pakoras,pulao, biryanis, aloo tikki, bondas- phew, the list goes on! These are examples of high carb foods and some are even fried, so no doubt our palates get used to these flavours and textures. A great idea would be to have these at breakfast or during high activity times (and frankly never say ‘never’ esp. when it comes to food). Unless of course you don’t mind a pudgy look in the midsection…how often have I seen lean and slim cops ( and other people of course) with a huge potbelly. Sure there are other reasons for that but one more cause is definitely the high carb diet. It’s easy and a surefire way to satisfy a hungry stomach. A sensible diet eludes our fast food restaurants but options are still around, only if we care to look. For if we do otherwise and team it up with a sedentary life, our bodies accumulate toxins, triglycerides, unhealthy fat stores which lead up to various diseases. Darn it if we were to think “tasty food= unhealthy fare”. Look around- can we really go for all the negativity around and expect to come out unharmed? It’s time to wake up.

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Go for Excellence

Insipid food for health, pressure from friends and being bored are just some of the reasons that people are eating and drinking all over the world right now. Reasons that don’t make sense, right? How wrong are these reasons and what ill effects are they going to have?The mind makes us do certain things that are not good for the body. How important is it then…….to control our minds.
Controlling to an extent that habits are made and ultimately we achieve states of excellence and perfection. After all, isn’t that what we all strive for?
Grimod de la Reyniere, the most celebrated gourmet of his day, author of “Almanach des Gourmands,” and a true blue authority on all matters culinary of the last century, said, “A true epicure can dine well on one dish, provided it is excellent of its kind.”
To ultimately achieve the excellence that we strive for, why not start with excellence in the foods that we eat. A true Epicurean is someone who believes that good living is not just high end or expensive living but simply – ” the things on the table are as elegant as the dishes in which they are served.” If all we have is just potatoes and salt ” let the salt be ground fine and the potatoes be white and mealy”. Let there be a window to excellence in our lives, where once you check in , you certainly are hooked.
If we were to assess a chef, we not only look for the technical aspect of the profession what with knowledge of food and hygiene, but the level of a chef goes completely to a new high if his outlook towards food is to the level of art and poetry. A fine chef is he who sees food as an expression of art. Such people create poetry in the kitchen through their creations and are rated as ‘Excellent’. Be it a béchamel sauce , simple sautéing of vegetables or just plain use of spices -they take it to an exciting level of goodness through precision and the love of food. Such people ,whether they are creators of a dish or just connoisseurs of it , see food as a gift of nature or a token of love and medicine from God. An Epicurean is just such a person.
I would think Epicurus, the Greek God of pleasure, must be so confounded seeing the current instant gratification fad and he may be shaking his head at those oblivious souls who think of themselves as ‘foodies’ with nothing really but just a large appetite. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean when I try to tell the difference between a foodie and an Epicurean.To top it all, Gluttony is even considered a sin.

To achieve laudable levels of excellence in our food habits there are these points to consider:
1. Gratitude for food
2. Quality of food
3. Savoring food through eye,touch and tongue
4. Eating slowly
5. Eating for purposes of only hunger or medicine
6. Thinking/ speaking pleasantly while eating
7. Consider eating time as important time
8. After eating…Maintaining a good body image/ loving your body

Learning to cook is an art that we should all try. Following recipes to the T and measuring every ingredient may make us good cooks but if we want to master the art, we need to learn to cook with our hearts . That way guidance really comes from within and we ‘know’ our food better. Such people love to cook and categorize it as even therapeutic in nature. Thus, ‘feel’ the aromas, the touch, the flavors and get to ‘know’ your ingredients before you venture into this art. For example,If you are holding an apple in your hand, know that it is the juiciest, most flavorful and the freshest in nature…don’t just go by the outward plastic appeal or make do with an inferior quality in any case.

Fresh, juicy, flavourful, satisfying.....excellent!

This holistic approach to food gives a wholesome perspective. It gives us a rather Mindful approach in life- a pre requisite to Excellence. Also,whatever we eat, we need to eat in peace, knowing that we are not harmed but benefitting from this act. A happy predisposition to food takes us a long way. Even if it is an indulgence, eat in peace (thus eating in moderation will be easy). The moment we get excited and want a second helping before we even finish the first…we are not in peace…we are eating with greed. That’s never going to take us to levels of Excellence ,be it in experience or health. Being Mindful will be the prelude to Excellence and Success always follows Excellence. So, here’s to success in health-mind , body and spirit!

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Easy Chicken

The only way to name this chicken dish is what comes to my mind first…and that is ‘Easy’. Yes, that’s right, eeeasssy. I have seen such exotic and complicated chicken dishes all my life -that I just have to mention this as one of my first quick dinner recipes. Now there’s one excuse to not eat healthy ( “No time” ) thrown right out the window.
To make it a complete dinner, I will also mention a side of veggies, let’s say carrots and broccoli. In case, either is not in season, you can jumble up any two vegetables of your choice. Just make sure to take your pick from vegetables in season. Eating fresh is eating healthy so please, no frozen foods this time. Good sides for chicken being mushrooms, beans, cauliflower, potatoes( now, don’t be afraid of these-just remember to avoid bread if you have these on your plate), cucumbers, tomatoes or lettuce/salad greens.Needless to mention, most of these will not need to be cooked, just use that time in cutting or decorating them in a fancy way.

I must mention here that a steamer is a must for all kitchens. In case, you don’t have one, yes – go get it! Meanwhile this recipe can still be made by boiling the carrots in minimum water just enough to retain crunch and when it is done, add broccoli and drain. Remember to save the drained water for future vegetable soups/broths.

Ingredients :

Easy Chicken :

Broiler Chicken- 800 gms( cut in curry pcs with bone)
Garlic- fresh ground- 12 small or 4 big cloves
Ginger- fresh ground-3-5 gms
Extra virgin olive oil- 3 tbs.
Salt/Fresh ground pepper- to taste

Side :

Carrots-4 small -cut in cubes
Broccoli- 100 gms- cut in medium florets to match the carrot cubes.
Melted Butter ( trust me, no harm )- 1 tsp for one portion

Method (Prep. time:20 mins.):

In a deep pan , pour some extra virgin olive oil and add the chicken together. We don’t want to put the olive oil too much earlier, like regular cooking oil, as it’s smoke point is too low. Burnt olive oil is worse than any other. Right after adding the chicken put in the ground ginger and garlic( fresh please).Cover lid on medium heat and prepare the carrot cubes. Throw in the steamer for 5 mins. Once they are done, then throw in the broccoli with the carrots-we don’t want to really cook the broccoli. Just give it a nice green color with it’s crunch intact.
Meanwhile , turn the chicken over and cover the lid again on med. heat.
Once, the chicken is done , put on a plate with the side of the veggies. You can add salt and fresh pepper on the veggies if you like, personally, I don’t see any need for these additives.Melt some butter in a microwave and garnish on vegetables and serve hot. Bon appetit!…… :-)

Note : For all those who love tweaking or spicing things up, you can add dry ground fenugreek/or mint(if you don’t have fenugreek) to the chicken when it is done but still in the pan. Just cover lid for a minute for the flavour to get soaked in the chicken. Mix with chicken and then put on plate. No need to add bread to this dish for dinner. Just eat more of it if you are still hungry.

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Drinking alcohol has been around for a long, long time. It’s been used as a means to escape and even enjoy life. A means to happiness. Well, as long as it’s just that, I would say its almost OK. But, if we wander into the science of what happens in the body when one is drinking, it suddenly doesn’t sound so pleasure giving anymore. From memory lapses, to muscle degeneration, worthless calories,depression,reduction in absorption of vital nutrients, liver problems, sexual problems,ulcers and even cancers etc, the list of alcohol’s damaging effect on the body has been widely studied and documented.

On the other hand, one may point to the benefits of drinking which have been so misunderstood because for these positive effects, the dosage of alcohol has to be really low- which is a non-occurrence in most cases. One starts with thinking “oh, a glass of wine is good for the heart” and ends up having a rather full glass…and so on.The pattern of drinking alcohol can spiral into uncontrolled addictions quite easily and unknowingly. A person who knows the damaging effects of alcohol may be the only one to prevent himself from being under the influence of alcohol in a negative way.
More and more events and get-togethers are relying heavily on alcohol to make success of these events. It’s quite unreal how the alcohol drinking population has not only gone up but gone younger as well. Our children have taken to alcohol purely on the basis of our own attitudes towards drinking. Peer pressure doesn’t only surround them, but, quite frankly, surrounds all of us in this matter.

For matters of health and happiness, it is best to not rely on alcohol. If 80% of the times we can drink non -alcoholic beverages , it would be a life saviour as the thought patterns arising out of drinking alcohol in such limits are bound to be more positive. It is no secret anymore that our thoughts create our life and everything that is happening around us is a part of our own expression. To be in a positive zone, requires a conscious effort and practice of moral behaviour including food and drink. The Greek philosopher Epicurus and the Indian God Shiva have been grossly misunderstood. While Epicurus propounded the pleasure of the senses, he believed in moderation and simplicity to achieve happiness and Shiva is the epitome of not just controlling the mind but transcending it.

Alternative drinks while going out can be a disastrous effort by some people as I have widely seen around me. Trust me, a glass of wine is probably better than a glass of diet soda or other such ‘chemical’ drinks. First thing to know is that water is the best drink in town. If you can remember that you will not only not drink your calories but also reduce on the highly processed drinks available. So, a lemon soda(unsweetened of course), plain soda water, green iced tea(unsweetened again) are such alternate beverages. For energy, its best to go for clear soups or real food. A good rule while drinking could be to have a glass of your choice of alcoholic beverage and intersperse it with two glasses of water drunk slowly before having another(the last one).

"Health - It's what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down"- Phyllis Diller

So, it may sound ‘boring’ to heavy drinkers or alcoholics, but its a fact of life that happiness need not be restricted to alcohol consumption. Some of us are fortunate enough to be happy without it too! Pleasures of life are a joy to have and personally, I give a lot of weightage to nature,friends, kids, hobbies,passions and community work to give such gratifying moments. Everything in life is a wonder and joy can be found everywhere. Infact, laughter and happiness in such cases is much more ‘real’. That does not mean that evenings out are not going to be possible. But, yes, they needn’t be that long into the night when our natural body clocks are still ticking and surely know that it is time for rest.

Like I maintain …. any indulgences are to be once in a while and in moderation, so is the case with alcohol.Every time there are drinks available does not mean we go for it. Our happiness need not be controlled with outer environments like people, alcohol or even situations , it’s a purely internal matter and Yes….. it is possible!

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Grilled Cheese Platter

A lot of people believe that cheese is not good for them as it is loaded with calories and fat. Well, I know that cheese is high in protein and low fat cottage cheese, mozzarella or feta can only be good to eat, in taste as well as nutrition. I have known various health freaks(including me) having this food item all the time without gaining an inch…infact, it has helped in losing weight without compromising on essential nutrients especially for people who do strength/resistance training.
Teamed up with vegetables , it makes for even a complete meal. I have eaten fried versions of this recipe which is definitely very tasty but packs in worthless calories. Grilled is a better way to crunch the outside to a great texture and preserves the nutritive value of food.
The following dish is not only tasty and healthy, but it also has a great eye appeal what with a green leafy base topped with red juicy tomatoes and white cheese with brown grilled scars, garnished with omega -3 oozing light green extra virgin olive oil. It’s only when you look at food in all it’s vibrant colours and textures that define vibrant health, that you can really satisfy your hunger cravings with complete gratitude for such lovely options provided by mother earth.

Ingredients :

Low fat cottage cheese : 200 gms
Lettuce : 6 whole leaves
Tomatoes : 2 whole
extra virgin olive oil : to pour as garnish
Lemon juice : of 1 whole lemon
Crushed oregano -for garnish
Salt /crushed peppercorn- to taste

Method (Cooking time- 10-12 mins.):

Cut 1/2 inch by 2 and 1/2 inches of cottage cheese which look like finger width and length. Grill them in a grill pan without any oil/butter. Alongside , cut tomatoes in small cubes and mix in some lemon juice with salt and pepper. Turn the cheese onto the other side , so both sides are evenly grilled and marked. Meanwhile, take a large platter and line with whole lettuce leaves.
Place the grilled cheese ,one on side of the other, and put the tomato mix all around it in the platter . Pour some extra virgin olive oil all over the dish and throw on some oregano for garnish in the end. Serve hot with serviettes/snack plates.

For a spicy twist, you can mix the tomatoes with tiny diced olives and jalapeños.

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Tea Time Walnuts

Here is a simple recipe that is tasty and healthy. Yes, it does contain some jaggery , which is a form of sugar ,but jaggery is natural sugar and has so many benefits that I cannot ignore. It is a rich source of iron and other vitamins and minerals. It is actually a whole, unrefined form of sugar and is not processed with any chemicals. It is used in various home remedies like cough, indigestion and constipation.It is also useful for rheumatic ailments and bile disorders.

The brain look alikes !

By tea time, I do not recommend tea literally every day ,although once in a while having green tea is a good thing. Mid morning and mid evening snacking is what I actually mean by tea time.
Usually walnuts are not really liked by many palates if eaten whole. Some may be OK with the taste if they are crumbled and put on as garnishes to various dishes. I think it will help to know that walnuts are a very good source of plant protein, are rich in vitamins( esp. Vitamin E), minerals and anti oxidants. They also have the good fat ie. Mono unsaturated fats and omega 3s – both known as ingredients for ‘super foods’. Well, all this also means that eating walnuts is good for cardio vascular benefits, treating asthma bouts, anti-cancer treatments, improving cognitive processes( and improving memory) ,inducing sleep(!) and treating obesity. Interesting trivia on walnuts is that if you have noticed the shape of a whole walnut out of its shell , it totally resembles a human brain- thus the objective of eating walnuts is improving brain functions! You can read an interesting article of how certain foods look like the body part that they help -here.

Now that we have gotten to know the tremendous benefits of walnuts, here’s this extremely simple recipe :

Ingredients :

Walnuts – 100 gms
jaggery – 25 gms
olive oil – 2 tbl.
Water – as required( aprox. 2 tbl.)

Method (cooking time- 5 minutes) :

In a pan ( I recommend all pots and pans to be iron made , if possible), put the jaggery, water and olive oil together. Let it form into a thin paste by stirring constantly for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the walnuts and coat all pieces evenly with the paste.Turn off the heat and take out the nuts in a plate . Spread out to cool. If two or more pieces stick together, separate them when they are cool.

Serve at room temperature. You can store these at room temperature for about a week. Eat as snacks at home or on your worktable, out of your handbag, with meals, after meals, serve to guests in fancy serving trays……the choice is as varied as packet foods! Bon appetit !

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Going Out to Eat

Today’s lifestyles are such that eating out is not just out of pleasure but usually, out of necessity also for some of us. Whatever be the reason, jeopardising a healthy diet is much too easy at such times. On the contrary, if I say that eating healthy at such times is also just as easy- would you believe me ?
Well, its true……as long as you know just what is clean eating or healthy eating. Lots of times, people say “Oh, you watch what you eat!”, but frankly, that almost implies that “you don’t enjoy what you eat”. Thats just not true when you know the basics of eating clean. It is in fact more enjoyable and fulfilling an experience. How many times have I seen couch potatoes eating a cookie and then wanting some, eating another and then wanting some more….and so on. Such people are never really satisfied.
Eating, as I feel, is an activity starting with gratitude and ending in nutrition for the body. Period. No obsessions, temptations ,restrictions or any such negative emotions. Just plain good , enjoyable and wonderful food. I say, if you want to end your suffering (temptation,in this case), just change your perspective. So, a temptation is no longer a temptation. How’s that? Because, if you are aware of the consequences of that temptation, it is now , rather, a threat! All problems are solved If you just like what is good for you. Juicy fruits, crunchy vegetables, fresh food, water-if these appeal to you more than cookies, cakes, pastas, packaged foods etc, you just make life easier( and longer) for yourself. Awareness is the key.
So, what to order on a menu full of calories? Remember , some healthy looking items may , infact be the opposite. For eg, just the other night when I went out with some friends to eat, we ordered a simple corn dish-it turned out to be fried! What a way to kill the healthy corn! My taste buds were crying out loud for juicy, fresh corn and all I got was oily , murdered corn with more calories than nutrition. I want health and immunity to get stronger every time i feed myself and not settle for killing my heart instead! Just like a Michelin star rated chef says ” You don’t go to the opera to get deaf, you don’t go to the movies to get blind , so why would you go to a restaurant to kill yourself?” He goes on to say how he dreams of restaurant food to be healthy , nourishing and tasty! May God bless him!

Ready to make YOUR choice?

Another prime example is great crunchy salads getting killed with disastrous dressings. It won’t harm to ask for the dressing on the side. Simple. Sandwiches- ask for brown/multigrain with no mayonnaise or other such processed spreads. Butter is better , if you can believe that. Chinese food is great if steamed and with less sauce/corn starch. Rice- a shade better than wheat flour noodles. To eat to your hearts content gets too tough when the food is heavy (less nutrition and high calories). You’ve got to look out for the opposite- high nutrition and low calories and sometimes just high nutrition. Calories wont matter all the time. Good example being dry fruits, dates, milk. Thin crust pizzas with a side of vegetables is no junk food anymore. Tea /coffee without sugar-thats a start!
The thing is – eating less (at least not till you are aged)is not the answer to prime health. You have to eat well and eat good-whether in your house or outside-doesn’t matter. Bon appetit!

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