Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cancer Sucks...find the power in pink!

Doctor: “When was your last mammogram?
Me: Umm..never
Doctor: You are over 40, its a good idea to get it done
Me (defensive): I don't think they are that effective and don't they hurt like crazy?
Doctor: I understand, you are afraid but a mammogram is not that big a deal
I procrastinated almost a year and a half and finally a bit sheepish showed up in the hospital for a scheduled mammogram.As I waited for my turn on the squishing machine, there were butterflies in my stomach - I sent panic texts to one likely source of support (N) and one unlikely source of support (M). As the minutes hand on the watch slowly crept past a very kind-looking woman came and took me in for my mammogram - it lasted all of 5 minutes and it really wasn't a big deal...a little uncomfortable but not too bad. The standard  monologue afterwards had me a little shaky - if you do get called in for a follow-up test it ain't a big deal (yeah right!) - but for now let's just assume all is well.
Cancer sucks...and it's affected me (lost my father to it) and close ones in more ways than one - so any reminder about it is not welcome in my world. Yet, as  I looked at the stats, the incidence of Breast Cancer in women far exceeds any other kind of cancer by a wide margin - 810,170 women were detected with cancer in 2015 in the US and almost 1/3rd of it was breast cancer.


So my one call to action for any woman over 40, if you are reading this blog post please, pretty please schedule a mammogram (if you haven't done one yet!)...show yourself a bit of love.

On my way home today, I saw that the Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom...spring is truly in the air. 

And a saying of Martin Luther King ran through my head as I walked into my house - The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Simple Living : A Chai Break...

"Life is like a cup of tea, its all in how you make it"

I am reading a book that attached itself to me in the musty smelling library (love that smell of books!)  - it was called the Handbook to Happiness. One of the things mentioned in it is Happiness comes to people in different ways - for some it is a habit, something that comes to them instinctively. While for others it's something learnt not instinctive and for others it's that elusive unicorn - so close, yet so far away. One thing that the book talked about was reflection and relaxation as a path to happiness-  A Chai Break is my time for that reflection and relaxation.


I usually drink a blend of teas from Teavana - Maharaja Chai Oolong and   Samurai Chai Mate and I add unprocessed sugar rocks to the blend - so that the brew is slightly sweet. Takes me back to India with the cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, ginger and cloves notes...a chai that warms me with it's spices. 

I try and have a healthy snack with my chai - today it was roasted Makhana tossed in Chaat Masala. Roasted/Popped Makhana is something I discovered in India about 4 years and I was
hooked - it's lotus seeds and the taste is almost like popcorn (for me it's way way better!). Lotus seeds or Makhana are a great source of protein and fiber - they are low in sodium and are a recommended snack for folks suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. They have a natural flavanoid called kaempferol which prevents inflammation and aging. They are also high on phyto-nutrients that help fight diseases. In Ayurveda it is believed that Makhana has astringent properties with specific benefits for the kidney. I didn't know about any of these health benefits when I first started eating the popped Makhana seeds...I just thought they were super delish.

So do you take a Chai Break? 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sometimes all you need is a little bit of love...(and some Dal Baati Churma!)


A little bit of love, can go a long way sometimes 
A little bit of love is really all you need
When life gets tough you need
A little bit of love sometimes

This was the week when Celine Dion's song kept playing on and on in my head - It was definitely a hard week - you know the hard ones where your body is screeching slow down and the routine speeds up...sudden deliverables galore, a last-minute customer presentation, customer escalations, dreary number crunching , people putting you in a box ( no one puts Baby in a corner!) ...and the constant snack and lunch box packing and the dinner  routine AND suddenly you are ready to scream - Enough! A Vacation right about now sounds like such an amazing idea. 

Did you know I always always wanted to vacation in Rajasthan - it's one of those wonderful states in India that I never ever visited. I will get there one of these days...this video sort of sealed the deal for me (what can I say I am a very visual sort of a person :-) )


In the interim I had a mini food vacation to Rajasthan. My friend "S" has her Ma visiting and in the past couple weeks I have been showered with a lot of affection and the most amazing food (stuff I have never really eaten before) like Dal Dhokli and Dal Baati. 

As I ate the Dal Baati today there was a flavor explosion in my mouth - Aunty had - stuffed the bati with mashed potatoes and peas - boiled them and then baked them in the oven. She slathered ghee on Baati and then you crushed it and ate it with the dal (lentils soup) - it was definitely a "vacation" at home kind of an experience for me (and after the hard grueling week - this is exactly what I needed!)




Our vacation memories always include food, where we ate it, who we ate it with, how we felt when we ate the food and the flavors we enjoyed - we are always able to recreate that wonderful feeling of warmth, love and memories through food. And sometimes all you need to make that hard week go away is a little bit of love and some amazing food !!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Simple Living : Grains on my Brains!

"True Genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information and making the right decisions" 
                                                                      Winston Churchill
So my head is reeling with information - I just finished a book Grain Brain - net of the book is Grains damage the brains - even healthy grains. I found the book a little one-dimensional and almost fanatical in expounding the virtues of a high fat ketogenic diet (made my head hurt!). I am not sold on the idea of giving up all healthy carbs  as they lead to Type-2 diabetes and heart diseases (its partial truth) ...I believe there needs to be balance. I sincerely believe animal protein causes inflammation and the book Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman has played a very critical role in shaping this belief in my mind. 

So here's how I have broken down all this conflicting information in my head - 
  1. Understand your diet. Log your current habits in an app - I have been religiously using MyFitness Pal ( came to the conclusion that I needed to add more protein to my diet and opted for plant based protein sources)
  2. Our ancestors probably ate some grains so why not us - so focus on the real nutritious grains aka ancient grains - in India it was Amaranth, Ragi (Finger Millet), in South America it was Quinoa, in Africa it was Teff,  in Americas it was Barley. Let's follow our ancestors and get a little adventurous
  3. Eliminate the White - yes, yes I know white flour, white rice is amazing to the taste - you are talking to someone for whom White Rice felt like crack...my go to meal is thayir sadam with avvaka pickle ( curd rice and mango pickle). I have weaned myself 98% off "white" - why 98% - when I go to a friend's or to India and the only option is rice - I will take a spoonful and relish it ;-)
  4. Grains are the environmentally sound decision - compared to the meats we spend one tenth the energy growing these whole grains - so this might be an irrelevant offshoot - but it is critical factor if this matters to you.
  5. Moderation is key - our Indian palate makes the carbs (rice, roti) the center or mainstay of the meal - flipping the plate to make the rajma or the choley and the veggies the mainstay of the meal is critical to helping us obtain balance. I highly recommend reading Dr. Ron Sinha's book "The South Asian Health Solution"
Here's one of my favorite porridge made with Quinoa and Sweet Potatoes (find the recipe here, that was a staple for son's evening meals growing up. 



On the days that we decide to eat meat, we opt for fish (wild caught salmon, sustainable cod) and pair it up with a lot of green leafy vegetables like this...


So do you have grains on your brain too :-)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Frugally Yours : A Shoutout to Milk Pail Market!



I have a confession to make - I totally "scope out" grocery purchases made by people next to me in the lines to the cash register - makes my 5-10 minutes wait in the grocery line entertaining. Be it the really fit looking lady with all the produce (ooh! I should have got those raspberries) or the older gentleman buying eggs, meat and dairy ( the salmon sure looks yummy, as do those biscotti)...you get the picture ;-)

Yesterday, there was a pretty interesting discussion on a work mailing list about food and nutrition -  someone posted a comment by Michael Pollan - Good high quality food costs more and is worth it (for individuals and the environment)...and of course your's truly had to get her 2 cents ( or is it one cent?) in - so here's what I said :
--------------------
That was actually one point that I didn’t  agree with Michael Pollan on —> it’s true that there is a perception that Organic and High Nutrient foods is more expensive but that is just it —> it’s a perception.

What I have realized over the  past 15-16 years of grocery shopping, food prepping and cooking is the following  –
  1.  it doesn’t really have to cost an arm and a leg – especially if you are shopping  in the periphery of the supermarket or at a closed farmer’s market like Milk Pail in Mountain View (fresh produce, dairy and meats) 
  2. I shop at the Belmont Farmer’s Market and pay much lesser for the pesticide free/organic  produce, eggs and bakery products than I would at a Whole Foods – I go with the seasons on the produce ( eat a lot of the citrus in the winter,  organic berries in the summer etc.) 
  3. Shop the bulk sections in Natural Grocery Stores ( most times it’s cheaper than a Safeway or Indian Store)
  4. Canned Beans are a great source of protein and nutrients and inexpensive.
  5. Shop the Sales Flyers at Natural Grocery Stores 

 You can definitely eat healthy, nutritious food on any budget – especially for a mostly vegetarian Indian Palate – high quality food is reasonably priced and pretty affordable! 

--------------------
I also wanted to let you take a peek at my grocery buy from Milk Pail Market this week all for about twenty bucks and some change.

  • Almost 5 pounds of pomegranate
  • 2 pounds of Green Zucchini
  • 2 pounds of cluster vine tomatoes
  • Red Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • 2 Boxes of Blackberries
  • 3+ Pounds of Apple ( Opal, Cameo)
  • 2 Grapefruits
  • .75 lbs of Jalapeno Havarti
  • Whipped Goat Cheese
  • Three Little Pigs - Mousse De Canard au Foie Gras ( duck liver pate') 
Here are my  three reasons for shopping at Milk Pail Market even though it's about 15 miles from where I live - 
(a) I save some serious moolah on both the healthy stuff and the exotic yummy stuff.
(b) I am feeding my family healthy without breaking the bank ( these kind of savings add up!) 
(c) I am supporting small, local businesses like Milk Pail Market which are truly the lifeblood of America  ( we need these businesses to create a corporate conscience about what is truly critical for our survival - these guys do an awesome job of supporting the community, educating & spreading awareness about their small business in Mountain View)

Convinced to shop local yet? So what's in your grocery basket :-) 


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Reluctant Yogi: Sprouting & Green Goddess Adai


Got to shift gears, changing lanes, 
must put aside all the fear of the unknown.
Read the  postings by the road,
Not shaken by the red lights of cop cars,
Or the yellow lines leading to infinity.
The road stretches ahead,
Beyond the corner . . . is a realm of possibility


For years I have had a sprout maker hidden away in my cupboards never used - a present from my Ma on a visit to India 10 years back. It looked like this


In the past - I resisted making my own sprouts and bought the sprouts from the store - they looked droopy and sad. For the  new year I made a resolution to at least try and make my own sprouts and  I have made sprouts successfully 3 times in less than a week and a half. I have made a sprouts chaat, a sprout salad with Arugula & Quinoa & Walnuts and the dish that I am especially proud of is this green goddess adai that these sprouts inspired me to make.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup sprouted moong beans
  • 1/4 cup Rolled Oats
  • 2 tablespoons Ragi Powder (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Flax Seed Powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 knob ginger
  • 2-3 green serrano chillies
  • 1 onion, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • few sprigs of curry leaves
  • few sprigs of cilantro (optional)
  • Arugula (1/4 Salad Bag - Optional)
  • salt to taste
Method
  • Give it a whir in your food processor ( mine was a Blendtec) 
  • Make it as you would an Adai or a dosa ( steps here )
  • I made an awesome peanut chutney to go with the Adai. Recipe here ( I made this recipe minus the onions and with double the quantity garlic - 6 cloves)
  • Turn off the TV, sit down with the family to a nice conversation and a cup of herbal chai and enjoy your meal.
Something that has slowly made it's way into my understanding is the following Eating is perhaps the single most important act for one’s body along with practices like meditation, pranayama and yoga - because nourishment of the body forms a foundation for nourishment of the mind and emotions.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Simple Living : Much Ado about Protein!

“For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” 

                      ― William ShakespeareMuch Ado About Nothing
I went to a personal trainer for exactly 5 weeks in 2014 and her mantra to me was - eat more protein, preferably lean meats ( I tried to up my protein to about 100 grams/day for the first week and felt bleh!)...so went back and did my research on protein. What I learnt was simple and I have implemented a fool proof way of getting a healthy balanced diet without the bleh! feeling. Want to know more ...read on.
The standard recommendations for protein intake from myplate.gov

Another way to look at this an adult man or woman needs 0.5-0.7 grams of protein per pound of their  body weight (for me that's between 55-60 grams per day). A serving is 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds (including chia seeds).

I keep it very simple - the reality is I don't eat a lot of meat. My standard lunch at work is a Quinoa Bowl  from the cafe (yes!every single day). This bowl has 350 calories, 16 grams of Protein, 56 grams of Carbs,  3 grams of Fat, 3 grams of Sugar and 15 grams of Fiber. Here are some of my easy fixes to adding protein to your diet, they are easy on the diet and easy on the pocket.

  1. Beans & Nuts : I eat beans  ( Black, Red, Moong, Garbanzo) at least 4-6 times a week You can add cooked beans to salads, make meatless Chili (or Chili with ground turkey, chicken or pea protein), curries. I buy my beans in the bulk section of Whole Foods and usually pay between $1-$2 for a pound organic beans. I also keep canned organic kidney beans, black beans and garbanzo beans from Whole Foods in my pantry ( $1.29/can, zero preservatives). 
  2. Quinoa : We eat this grain almost every day - we have substituted rice 100% with Quinoa. I keep both golden quinoa and red quinoa at home - and cook it in a rice cooker as I would cook rice ( 1 cup of Quinoa to 2 cups of water). Cooked Quinoa can be used in salads, hot porridges, I use it in lieu of rice with my curries ( it takes a little getting used to but I have been doing this for 5-6 years now). I buy my Golden Quinoa from Costco ( TruRoots Organic Quinoa - $11.99 for 4 pounds, $3 per pound). 
  3. Eggs : this wonderful superfood  got a bad rap in the past years but is coming back into the good books with nutritionists - I love eggs - my favorite way to eat my eggs are in an Anda Bhurji  (indian styled scrambled eggs) with a slice of multigrain toast. Other ways to eat eggs are - boiled, fried, egg muffins and Egg curry. I buy my eggs from two sources : Farmer's Market ( Organic Large Chicken eggs - $0.50/egg, Duck Eggs - $1.00/egg, Goose Egg - $5.00/egg or Quail Eggs - $1.25/10 (pack) ) or at Costco  - Organic, Cage-Free, Humane Raised - $6.29/24 eggs)
  4. Chia Seeds : High in protein ,Omega 3  and fiber. I added this to our diet about 2013 ( before it became a fad). You wonder how we use it - add it to our morning oatmeal or yogurt, add it to water (or watered down lemonade, kombucha, kevita), add it to my waffles ( 2 tbspoon per person), cake batter, salads, smoothies...I even add it to this pudding I make (it's a lot like a chia pod -- yes! the expensive one you get at Whole Foods...only tastes a hundred times better). I buy my Chia Seeds at Costco ( Nutiva, Organic, $5.99/2 pounds)
  5. Orgain Protein Powder - once or twice a week I supplement with organic protein powder. I used to buy the Garden of Life - Protein Powder but switched over to Orgain last month. Easiest way is to add it to a smoothie. I buy Orgain at Costco ($29.99/ 40 oz Container)


My husband also supplements with protein bars ( he is partial to the Think Thin Bars) - I am not too sold on Protein Bars.  Traditional South Asians (especially Indian)  diets have a lot more carbs and very little protein - goal is  not to over-correct but try and mindfully add more protein to our diets.
Protein aids our immune system, regulates the body pH, plays a vital role in nutrient transportation, builds muscles and hormone regulation. Sold yet?

Let me know your easy hacks for adding more protein into your diet?