Monthly Archives: June 2016

Favorite Cookbooks

Summer is my favorite time of year for trying out new recipes. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables available, which is great for me because I don’t tend to eat a lot of meat, but still have so many delicious dinner options to choose from thanks to an abundance of produce.

If you like to cook and could use some new inspiration for your meal planning, here are five of my favorite cookbooks that I highly recommend you check out.

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Cooking From The Farmer’s Market is my go-to cookbook whenever I need ideas about how to best to use the veggies we get from our CSA. For the most part of the recipes are really simple to follow, and everything I’ve made from this book has been great. I haven’t tried my hand at too many of the dessert recipes, but this may be the summer to give those a shot.

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Nearly every recipe in this book requires just a few ingredients and they are so easy to make. These recipes are a great way to break out of your regular cooking routine and try some new flavors and food combinations that you might not have otherwise considered. This cookbook is where I first learned of the magic that is garam masala.

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Turns out that pretty much everything yummy that I remember from my childhood came from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It has the pancake recipe that I still use all the time, as well as the pumpkin bread that I make every fall. There are so many useful recipes in this cookbook, but I particularly like it for all of its baked goods. I am not a huge baker, but whenever I get the urge to make cookies or try out a new quick bread, I always check this cookbook first because I just know it will have the recipe I need.

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Summertime should be all about making the most of your longer days and spending more time socializing and less time in the kitchen bringing your meal together. The One Pot cookbook is perfect for planning meals that don’t need a ton of your attention and require very little cleanup. There’s a one pot pasta recipe in here that has become one of our favorite recipes. We make it a lot. It’s requires some brief slicing of vegetables, then everything goes in one pot at once and 10 minutes later dinner is ready. It’s so great for a lazy summer evening.

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Lastly, if you’re looking for a special meal to make for a summertime gathering, I highly recommend you give paella a try. What initially seems like an overwhelming, difficult culinary experiment is actually quite easy to execute and really fun to make. We got this cookbook as a wedding present and it is by far our most well used recipe book. You can tell from the stains on the cover in the picture just how much use it gets. We make paella every year at Christmas, but there are some wonderful recipes that are more specific to the spring and summer seasons. Each recipe makes a ton of food, so you can feed a big crowd and it’s a perfect meal for a beautiful summer evening with a nice bottle of wine and some of your favorite people.

A Bright Story For Your Darker Days

It has been a rough couple of weeks, both in my personal life, and in the world at large. It always seems like bad news travels in groups, piling up, one sad story on top of another until they completely block your view of anything light and bright that exists beyond the massive stack of sorrow that the world has created. I have a tendency to want to carry it all in my arms, to hold up everything sad and broken, to challenge myself to fix it, and then admonish myself for the inevitable failure to do so. It’s been a tough few weeks for a lot of people. A time of loss, of uncertainty. A time of confusion, and frustration. It is so easy to sink into the darkness that the world creates around us, to give in to a feeling hopelessness, and helplessness.

I came across this short essay from Elizabeth Gilbert the other day, in one of those serendipitous instances when the Internet introduces you to the very thing you need to see in that moment. It was a nice reminder that, though the world may all too often feel dark and unmanageable, we always have opportunities to create light. There are always chances to brighten up someone’s day, to spread joy and warmth, to give comfort. I am sharing this essay here in the hopes that it may speak to someone else in the way that it spoke it to me, and to remind all of us that while life can be chaotic and beyond our control, we still have the power to act with kindness, to turn ourselves into a million little bright spots shining against the backdrop of a dark world.

Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated—with one another; with the rainy, sleety weather; with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.

But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom. “Folks,” he said, “I know you’ve had a rough day and you’re frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here’s what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight—just leave ’em with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I’ll open the window and throw your troubles in the water. Sound good?”

It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who’d been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?

Oh, he was serious.

At the next stop—just as promised—the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up—but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.

But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?

That’s what this bus driver taught me—that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy “influencer.” He was a bus driver—one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.

When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name. How we behave matters because within human society everything is contagious—sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated—one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.

-Elizabeth Gilbert

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Summer Running

I had planned to do a run this morning after the first batch of today’s rainy weather cleared, but as I started to jog down my street and instantly felt dragged down by the humidity, I threw up my arms and went, “nope, not today.” I am not a fan of summer running. Give me cold weather and plenty of layers over dripping sweat and heavy, lazy limbs any day.

But I can’t stop running completely just because it’s summer. And for anyone who has fall races planned, there’s no way to avoid these hot, humid runs. If the weather has your feet dragging and leaves you feeling less than your athletic best, check out the links below for some advice on running in heat and humidity.

Tips for running in humidity: here and here.

How heat affects your performance

Factors that affect how hot you feel, and warning signs of heat sickness.

What to expect from different heat ranges.

A Simple Trick for Treating Joint Pain

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My hands are frequently stiff and achy. It’s an occupational hazard. A few months back, when I started to get more persistent pain in my knuckles, a friend and fellow massage therapist told me that she had heard you can relieve joint pain by soaking your hands in vinegar. At the time, I thought it sounded like a bunch of hooey. I figured I’d sit around with my hands dipped in vinegar for a half hour and end up feeling no difference, and smelling like vinegar on top of it. But after a little research and some test runs, I have been forced to retract my skepticism. It really does work! It definitely isn’t a cure-all for joint pain and arthritis, but I have found that it does take the edge off of my hand pain and reduces a lot of my finger stiffness. If you suffer from arthritis, or have been experiencing joint aches or stiffness due to injury or repetitive movements, I recommend you try out this technique to help relieve some of your pain.

There are two ways that I have used vinegar to help with my joints.

  1. You can combine 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 6 cups of warm water and soak your sore joints in the mixture for 3o minutes.
  2. You can combine a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a carrier oil like coconut, or grapeseed oil, and massage it directly onto your joints.

Apparently drinking apple cider vinegar regularly (a couple of teaspoons in a glass of water a few times a day) can also help reduce arthritis aches and pains. I haven’t tried that method yet because it doesn’t sound especially appetizing, but give it a try if the taste of vinegar doesn’t bother you too much and you are looking for a faster approach than a 30 minute warm water soak.

 

 

Do You Have a Nighttime Routine?

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I am not a strong sleeper. I tend to have trouble dozing off. It seems like as soon as my head hits the pillow, a million thoughts flood my mind and I cannot get them to pipe down enough to let me get a little shut eye. Or if I do happen to fall asleep quickly and easily, I wake up every couple of hours, stirred by some little sound, or the need to go to the bathroom. I’ll fall back to sleep again right away, but two hours later, I’m awake again, and the cycle repeats all night long.

I am trying to get better at establishing a regular nightly routine–something that signals to my mind and body that it’s bedtime, and we need to start getting sleepy and stay that way throughout the night.

I’ve started performing the same skin care ritual each night, a slow and methodical routine of washing and moisturizing that is the first step in letting my body know that it is time to wind down. The intentionality of the care and the repetition of the behavior is soothing, and I’ve come to find that it is one of the more relaxing parts of my day.

I also started keeping a notebook next to my bed so that I can jot down any last minute worries or reminders that pop into my mind the second my head hits my pillow. I have found that most of my bedtime thoughts are focused on things I need to remember to do the next day, as if this one last, sleepy reminder will somehow make those thoughts stick in my mind. I wake up in the morning knowing that there’s something I’m supposed to remember to do, but naturally I can never actually remember what it is. Writing those thoughts down not only gets them out of my mind so I can relax and drift off to sleep, but it makes the following morning less stressful too because I’m not searching my brain to remember whatever it was I thought of the night before.

Lastly, once I am in bed, I begin by positioning myself on my back, with a pillow beneath my knees for additional support and comfort. Then I slowly scan my body and try to relax each part of my body from my toes to the crown of my head. I breathe deeply, with slow, full breaths from my abdomen, and try to feel my body relaxing and releasing into the mattress beneath me. My tendency is to sleep on my side at night, but I find this relaxation exercise to be a little easier when I’m on my back. It has been a good way to release the tension of the day, and helps me further shift my mind away from any intrusive thinking that could get in the way of my ability to fall asleep.

This has been my first week with a dedicated focus on implementing this routine, so the jury is still out on whether or not it will make a major difference, but I have found that I awake feeling more refreshed than I have in recent weeks, so that’s definitely a good sign.

Do you follow a specific nighttime routine? Do you have trouble sleeping? You can check out more tips for improving your sleep here.

Proper Plank Position

Planks are a great exercise for strengthening your core and targeting muscles that help improve your posture and support your entire body. But they are also very easy to do incorrectly, and can lead to back strain and injury if you are not holding the position properly. Check out the videos below to learn more about what a proper plank looks like, how to correct common errors when performing this exercise, and ways to modify your positioning as needed.

Forearm planks, progressing from knees to toes:

 

High plank yoga posture:

Summer Reading Suggestions

Although summer doesn’t officially start until June 20th, it’s supposed to be sunny and 90 degrees here in Baltimore this week, so yeah, it’s summertime. My plan for this weekend is to put up the umbrella, kick back in one of our comfy, cushy patio chairs, and get lost for a while in some summer reading. I have lots and lots of book recommendations. If you’re looking for something to read, and don’t know where to start, let me know and I’ll be happy to give you a list of suggestions that will last you all the way through fall. For today, since this is a health and wellness blog, I’m sticking with just a few suggestions from those general categories.

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

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When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir from a neurosurgery resident who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It is a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at terminal illness from a gifted writer who has had to come to terms with death as both a doctor and a patient. For a book that feels like it should be a meditation on dying, Kalanithi instead focuses largely on the choices involved in living, and what it means to be alive when you don’t know how much time you have left. As he points out, we all die someday, and “in the absence of any certainty, we should just assume that we’re going to live a long time. Maybe that’s the only way forward.”

You will cry when you read this, but you will also take a hard look at your life, and be thankful for it: for the struggles, and the joys, and the complexity of existence.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time

by Brigid Schulte

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Overwhelmed is a remarkably well researched and in-depth exploration of stress management, work-life balance, and how we prioritize our time in a society that prides itself on hard work and busyness. Schulte is a journalist and it shows in this book’s investigative approach to understanding how time and leisure are addressed in a variety of cultures and settings.

Schulte explores these topics with a feminist’s mindset, acknowledging that while men increasingly experience a sense of time-crunch and feel overwhelmed, the stress of multiple roles and too many responsibilities still disproportionately affects women. It is an incredibly insightful and eye-opening look at how people manage the often overwhelming demands on their lives, and it offers some optimistic advice on how to reduce your stress and make the most of your time.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

by Dan Harris

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After having on-air panic attack, news anchor Dan Harris sets out on a quest to reduce his stress, and find a way to silence the incessant, striving voice in his head that was constantly pushing him to try harder and work more. This is a book about mindfulness and meditation for the mindfulness and meditation cynic. Harris’ journey winds its way through traditional religion, new age self-help solutions, and neuroscience and psychotherapy. Harris writes honestly about his own skepticism, as well as his rejection of a variety of theories and approaches to leading a happier, healthier life.

10% Happier is funny and insightful, and a perfect introduction to the world of meditation for anyone whose first instinct is to roll their eyes when they hear the word mindfulness.

Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget

by Sarah Hepola

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I have talked about this book before, but want to give it a second shout out, because I loved it so much. It is an incredibly funny, but honest and heartfelt depiction of alcoholism and addiction.

There are moments that are genuinely moving, or upsetting, but in general if you’re looking for a more lighthearted read about a serious subject, Blackout is the book for you. It’s not just about drinking, but about growing up, figuring out who you are, and managing the ups and downs of a rapidly changing life.

Hepola writes with so much humor and openness that you can’t help but feel like you really know her, and wish you could spend more time with her. This is a rare memoir that I would go back and read over again.

Hepola did an interview about Blackout last year for Fresh Air. You can read notes from that interview here.