November 9, 2014

Warm Buckwheat & Butternut squash Salad

November 9, 2014
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Despite the bewildering name, buckwheat is related sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb, and has played an important role in diets around the world – mainly in the Balkan Peninsula, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia – for thousands of years. You may be familiar with Japanese soba-noodles, Russian blini, north Indian kuttu pakora and puri, and even French galette - all made of buckwheat flour.

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As pseudo-cereal, it is technically non-grain, and therefore gluten-free and easy to digest. I have experienced this first hand when having used buckwheat, quinoa and millet for a month and then suddenly consuming Basmati rice. As much as I’m accustomed to eating rice, and love it, it dries up the body more, and may cause constipation. If you want to let your alimentary tract to rest for a while, choose buckwheat. However, I wouldn’t recommend it daily because it increases the fire element and passion of the body. Unlike rice that cools down, buckwheat supplies heat.

Buckwheat contains high levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zink, and iron, and provides more well-balanced protein than grains in general. In fact, the amino-acid score of buckwheat’s protein is one of the highest among plant sources. Combined with pulses, it will give you more than enough fuel to live and prosper. In addition, buckwheat has niacin and folate, which are B-group vitamins.

Being whole-food, there is plenty of soluble fiber to slow down the rate of glucose absorption; insoluble fiber to speed intestinal transit time; and resistant starch, which is sometimes mentioned as the third type of dietary fiber, advantageous to overall colon health.

You might be interested to know that buckwheat is the best source of bioflavonoid rutin or citrus flavonoid glycoside, which is an antioxidant. It strengthens capillaries and can help people who bruise or bleed easily. Rutin has also anti-inflammatory, preventive and healing effects, and there are indications that it can inhibit some cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.

Buckwheat grows so readily that it hardly requires pesticides and chemicals.

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As for the taste, it is nutty and robust, and makes a statement. You can’t confuse it with any other grain or grain-like flavor. Neither can you hide it! I would say that it takes a while to get used to, especially if you want it to substitute rice or other neutral side-dishes.

I like to use roasted buckwheat groats, known as kasha. It is easier to cook and doesn’t mash together like the raw version. I also think the aroma is more delicate. For breads, I use both flakes and flour.

In my today’s recipe buckwheat makes a warm salad with black beans, roasted butternut squash, micro-greens and capers. I planned to add salty fresh cheese and toasted cashews to it, but forgot!

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Thank you.






October 26, 2014

Autumn tips

October 26, 2014
Some time ago my health collapsed. In order to restore it, I decided to look at the physical imbalance from the point of view of mental harmony. While mapping out the weak points of my lifestyle, I realized that I had gradually accepted many disturbing symptoms – an interrupted sleep pattern, anxiety, night sweats, food cravings and skin disorders among them – as a new “normal”.

Throughout the forties I’ve insisted that bodily discomfort is a part of natural transformation from the productive and outgoing life of youthfulness to an old age. I was wrong. Chanakya Pandita, who was a philosopher and royal advisor (c. 370 – 283 BC), suggested that three emergencies – fire, debt and disease – must be immediately cleared because, if neglected, they will expand and get out of hand.

Basically, there are two paths to wellness. The first one is to medically cover the symptoms, which hardly cures the cause, and the second and often more challenging one is to address the factors that lead to debilitation. It is surprising how much we can influence our condition by adjusting our attitudes, values and habits.

Here are my humble tips for energizing yourself.

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Sleep well. A solid six to eight hours sleep sustains and repairs, and rejuvenates the body. It’s like taking a car into a garage where it’s oiled and fixed while you go shopping, except that it should happen every day. More relaxed you are when you lay down, better the rest. If the adrenal glances that sit at the top of your kidneys are overworked, they keep releasing hormones in response to stress, and prevent you from falling and staying asleep. As a result, you will be chronically fatigue.

To create a peaceful environment, turn off all electrical appliances (computer, radio, TV…) and lights, except for a reading lamp, at least an hour before going to bed. Light up some bee wax candles or ghee-lamps instead. Ventilate the room and keep the window open throughout the night. Do some simple asanas, like lifting your legs against the wall for twenty minutes. Take a warm bath. Gently massage the back of your neck and the belly for a few minutes. Drink a cup of hot organic milk with turmeric. If you are sensitive to sound, wear earplugs. Use natural textiles made of wool, linen and cotton. Read a bedtime story.

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An early bird catches the worm. Upon waking up, do oil-pulling by taking a tablespoon of warm sesame or coconut oil and swishing it in the mouth for ten to fifteen minutes and then spitting it out. This is an ayurvedic method to improve dental hygiene, moisten the gums and pull out toxins, ama, from the body. Then brush your teeth and scrape your tongue. After showering, drink a cup of hot water with lemon juice as a liver tonic.

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Utilize the hours before sunrise for spiritual enlightenment. Meditate and educate yourself. Offer respect and thanks to those who are guiding you.

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Before breakfast, place three or four kale leaves with a handful of wheatgrass into a blender and process them with water. Sieve the juice and discard the fibre (unless you want to use it in cooking or baking later). This shot has a high concentration of vitamin A, C, and K.

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Beautify naturally. Grow your own Aloe vera plant which contains glycoprotein that reduces inflammation and pain, and polysaccharides that promote skin growth and repair. Aloe gel within the leaves is antibacterial; it sooths and moisturizes the skin, and leaves a refreshing, cool impression. You can also make a cleansing mask from the gel and honey, rinse it out after twenty minutes, and apply almond or coconut oil onto your face.

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Eat often and smaller portions. Instead of over-eating once or twice a day, downsize the portions and enjoy smaller meals every three hours. Consume proteins like pulses, grains and milk products during the breakfast and lunch, and lighter foods in the afternoon. Add fresh vegetables, seeds and nuts to your diet. Try to get the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients from food rather than from supplements. If you have to take additional nutriments, choose plant-based products like amla for vitamin C, flaxseed oil for Omega-3 and sea kelp for iodine.

Use authentic sea salt or Himalaya salt. Your body reacts against chemically processed sodium chloride or table salt by water retention.

Give up sugar for the time being. It takes two or three days to overcome the addiction if you get enough potassium from the rest of the menu. Eat fruits, prunes, dry apricots and raisins instead. Too much sugar, regardless if it is refined, organic or whole cane, disturbs the body’s insulin and hormone production.

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Finally, walk in the nature! Even twenty minutes in the woods level blood pressure and relieve tension. It's a beautiful autumn!





August 13, 2014

Chard rolls

August 13, 2014
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A recent hypothesis put forward by Dr. Chris Lowry, who is a neuroscientist in Bristol University, suggests that a strain of harmless bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) in the soil may trigger the release of serotonin which regulates our feelings of well-being. To inhale this naturally occurring antidepressant while repotting herbs in the balcony, weeding out dandelions in the garden, raking leaves in the backyard and hiking in the woods is an exciting idea, and makes more sense than popping Prozac in the mouth.

At the same time, the theory sadly reveals the degree to which we have alienated from our roots and the rest of the creation. When a scientist speculates that it might make kids more joyful and smarter if we introduced outdoor facilities in school environments where they would be exposed to nonpathogenic organisms, I can’t help but being sarcastic. Really? Any cute little piglet could teach us a lesson about the comfort of playing in dirt. Happy as a pig, they say.
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Unhappiness is a serious problem in our society and it would be inappropriate to write about it maliciously – especially today, while the headlines talk about the suicide of a loved entertainer who professionally mastered comedy, but privately battled with alcohol and drug abuse, and depression. Tragically, such a conflict of character and position is more common than we dare to think, and reminds us that happiness is not a situation but an experience.

Our mind incessantly chases after pleasure and attempts to eradicate discomfort through the senses, but the soul – the real self who animates the body, and as whom we remain even after the body ceases to be – is of different energy and, thus, unimpressed by any amount of material perfection. Just like a fish cannot thrive out of water, whether it lies in a crystal bowl or on a bed of sand, the self cannot access transcendental bliss – which is the natural state of the soul – until we start developing our consciousness.
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Having spent a good part of the summer in the garden, I agree that being in contact with earth and other natural elements contributes to a peace of mind – and there may even be a connection between the scent of compost and our serotonin levels – but as a spiritual person, I refuse to reduce my capacity for fulfillment to a mere biochemical reaction. Isn’t that exactly what so many have unsuccessfully tried to do by using marijuana, amphetamines, and psychedelics?

We want an easy way out from suffering but are reluctant to accept any alternative that requires adjusting our perception, values or way of living – even when it is free and available for everyone. It would be interesting to know how many of us would rather puff, inject or swallow Mycobacterium vaccae in a laboratory than, on a regular basis, pull down the socks, step aside from the paved streets and wander beyond the blocks of concrete where our children could climb trees and explore what is under a rock.

Perhaps we fear the nature – inside and outside of us – because it unveils of what a great biological, psychological, spiritual and devotional symbiosis we are a part of. We have worked so hard to disconnect and unlearn who we really are!
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Gardening is great because it displays all aspects and stages of life within a short season and one has to be really stubborn not to sympathize with the relationships and events involved. Watching a seed grow into a sprout and mature plant that gifts a vegetable or fruit is bonding and rewarding.

It’s not even the harvest that makes horticulture purposeful but the sense of belonging it offers. Getting to know our extended family, in which various kinds of winds, raindrops, sunrays, mineral particles and organic matter share their special talents and wisdom is fun; it may not directly make us self-realized but it helps us to act thoughtfully, considerately, caringly and compassionately. Then, when we carry a basketful of spinach, carrots and herbs to home and cook them for the pleasure of those we love and want to interact affectionately with, we are a step closer to lasting happiness. There will never be a vaccination - Mycobacterium vaccae or anything else – that will supersede a balanced lifestyle and conscious endeavor to evolve as a spirit soul!
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Since June we have eaten mainly what our garden has produced: radishes, lettuce, kohlrabi, turnips, spinach, chard, kale, beetroots, carrots, zucchini, beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs. A few days ago I dug up some of the potatoes. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, winter squash, peppers and chili are still developing. These colorful fellows are a real boon! They are so pure and tasty that I don’t want to complicate them with anything else but olive oil and simple spices.
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Unfortunately I have lost the paper on which I had scribbled the recipe while making the chard rolls last week. I will give the ingredients here and you will have to figure out the rest if you want to make them. Take the concept and perfect it according to your taste!
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Thank you.





July 15, 2014

Berry Pie

July 15, 2014
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In order to cut and serve a wet pie neatly, bake it in a shallow dish. Learn from my mistakes and don’t use a tall spring form – it’s a bad, bad idea! When lifting the side piece up, I pierced the crust and trickled the juices; when removing the bottom part, I tore off the entire base of the pie. What a mess! Maroon berry compote splattered around the kitchen and my dress.
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Luckily I had photographed the pie when it was still hot and intact. These pictures would give me a narrative license to create a visual illusion and you would never have to know about the mishap! Or, so I thought before realizing I had accidentally – and very permanently – deleted the pictures from the camera. All of them.
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I was unfocused. It was a hot day: I wanted to finish baking and photographing as soon as possible. I sweated, had heartburn and a headache. Funny, when the mind becomes distracted it storms all over the place although it should pause and re-evaluate. But, in the heat of the moment, it is too engrossed and ignores the little cues that forecast trouble. How many times have you neglected the flash of premonition that strikes the thought process just seconds before cutting a finger or dropping a glass? Often only a shock will halt a passionate mind. Breaking the pie and loosing the pictures did it for me.
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Instead of baking and photographing again, I decided to deal with the mind. Interestingly, when it was calm, the failure no longer bothered me and I could happily share the crumbles with my husband. It seemed like a natural thing to do, and reminded me that cooking and eating are irreplaceable mediums of affection. The rest – in what form the recipes are presented in social media and how artful the images are – is less important.
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Thank you.