The Teacup Chronicles

Month: August, 2010

Inspiration Short #2: Look at the stars

For one night this week, turn off the television and instead head outside to gaze up at a greater show – the cosmos. How often do we forget to experience the wonders of the night? So often we attempt to sustain ourselves through things beyond our experience – losing ourselves in a favorite television show or good book, and then wondering why we find ourselves feeling so deeply unsatisfied with our own lives.  The cure for this is simple – find the beauty present around you and experience it, become present in the mystery of your own existence. Your life is not elsewhere, it is right here, waiting for you to notice. Star gazing is a perfect way to practice being present in the splendor of your life.

When you gaze up at the sky, you share in an experience known to every human that has lived on this earth. The experience is collective – one of awe and mystery – compelling us to ponder our existence, pulling our heads out of the small details of our lives and forcing us to see the bigger mysteries. Our lives can seem so big, so complex and overwhelming. But when we look at the expanse of glittering universe unfolding all around us, we suddenly find the weight of our own life floating away, replaced with profound amazement that we even exist to stand and gaze up at something we can only begin to comprehend.

Tonight is the perfect night to start your new star gazing hobby, as the perseid meteor shower begins today, peaking late this evening. So grab a blanket and a thermos of something warm, surround yourself with some good friends and loved ones, and  experience the amazing unlikeliness and profound beauty of your life here on earth.

Gingery Peach Chutney

Ahhh, peach season is here. The peach is one of my most beloved fruits, capturing all the indescribable feelings of late summer in it’s juicy sweet deliciousness. I can easily see how this decadent fruit climbed to the status of celestial in China, it’s native country. There, the peach was considered the fruit of longevity and  immortality. In Toaist myth, the peach tree was the tree of life, twisting upward from earth to sky, supporting the universe in its branches. Legend has it that this tree produced fruit once every three thousand years, and any who we’re able to gain access to the fruit by climbing the highest mountain in Tibet would immediately ascend to heaven when they took a bite of the sweet flesh. I know I have certainly felt like I was ascending into heaven when eating a perfectly ripe peach!

Most beautiful of all, peaches are more than just delicious. One large peach contains just 70 calories, an abundance of beta carotene (the vitamin A pre-cursor), vitamin C, and niacin.  In Chinese medicine they are said to have a cooling effect on the body, lubricate the intestines and promote elimination. They soothe gastric inflammation, and their leaves can be used for easing symptoms of gastric reflux and nausea.

In my house, the peaches almost never make it past the eating out of hand stage – they are just so good, its difficult to imagine how they could be improved at all with cooking. But this year, I am forcing myself to save a few for the cooking pot, and am finding it well worth the effort. Yesterday, I made a delicious vanilla peach compote by simmering peach halves in a tiny bit of water with dash of maple syrup and a sliced open vanilla pod. I spooned it over my oatmeal with a handful of blueberries, and can honestly say I have never enjoyed a bowl of porridge as much!  Sliced up in a salad with toasted almonds and a raspberry vinaigrette was also a fantastic peach application.  Another new favorite is whizzing a peach in the blender with 3/4 cup milk, a teaspoon of raw honey, and a dash of orange water. Served over ice, this is just the thing for a hot summer night!

But perhaps my most favorite new found use for peaches is to make a spicy, gingery chutney to serve with Indian samosas (vegetable stuffed pastry) or to spoon over a spicy curry with a little flat bread.  The recipe was based off a mango chutney recipe – and peaches just seemed like the perfect local and seasonal substitute for the very un-local mango. Turns out they aren’t just a great substitute, they might be even better than mangoes. Try it and see for yourself.

Gingery Peach Chutney

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe peaches, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (depending on spice preference)
  • 1 medium sized shallot, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbl sugar (maple sugar, organic unrefined cane sugar, etc)
  • 1 tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/8 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on spice preference)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then plunge into cold water. Once they are cool, slip the skins off (they should come off quite easily). Chop the peaches into 1/4 inch cubes, and place in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, tasting and adjusting for your preferred level of spice and sweetness, adding more sugar, ginger or red pepper flakes as needed. Let the chutney sit for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors fully meld together.

Quenching your thirst healthfully

I often hear very intelligent people assert that they would never drink a soda due to the sugar content and calories, and then watch them pour a brimming glass of fruit juice or pop open a vitamin water. These choices may seem like healthier alternatives when it comes to choosing a beverage, but in fact, many of these drinks contain just as much if not more sugar and calories than many leading soda beverages.

I can easily see where the confusion arises, reading juice labels that state “no added sugar”, “100% juice”, or “completely natural”. Vitamin waters often claim on their packaging to be superior to water, helping to enhance our endurance and performance levels, while sports drinks advertise themselves as necessary for our complete hydration after exercise or activity. These labels distort our judgment by leading us to several incorrect assumptions.

The first assumption is that because a beverage or product does not contain added sugar, the fruit derived sugars it contains must be healthy. Unfortunately, sugar is sugar – whether it came from an orange or a sugar cane makes little difference to how it will behave in our bodies. While it is true that fruit beverages contain more vitamins and minerals than say, a can of soda, they lack the fiber present in the whole fruit that acts to modulate the absorption of all that sugar in the blood stream. An 8 oz serving of orange juice, for instance, contains 10 teaspoons of sugar and 170 calories (the same as your average serving of cola), while a glass of cranberry juice can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar and 200 calories! Without the fiber present in the whole fruit, all that sugar dumps directly into the bloodstream and destabilizes our blood sugar balance. This is especially detrimental to children, whose moods and concentration levels are often extremely sensitive to drops in blood sugar. The added sugar also provides unnecessary extra calories, increasing the risk of obesity and ultimately the development of type 2 diabetes.

The second assumption is that vitamin enhanced waters are somehow superior to regular water, necessary for attaining the optimum levels of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, and enhancing our daily performance. Dr. David Katz says it best, “If we had a problem with epidemic malnutrition in this country, a drink such as Vitamin Water might make sense. But since we have, instead, epidemic obesity and diabetes, how about we just leave water alone, instead of using it as a delivery system for sugar no one needs?” One bottle of vitamin water contains 33g of sugar and 125 calories, which is more calories and sugar contained in a 12 oz serving of coke. So while you may think you are doing yourself a favor by radically enhancing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals, what you are really doing is setting yourself up for a sugar crash – and that doesn’t enhance anyone’s performance.

The last assumption we make is that sports drinks are necessary for re-hydrating ourselves after any athletic activity. Yet, the average consumer of such drinks rarely reaches the level of athletic intensity they are designed for. For most consumers, they only deliver unnecessary calories, sugar, and sodium. They also often come in large serving sizes (often 32 oz), encouraging us to drink amounts of sodium and sugar that would be excessive even for Lance Armstrong. A 32 oz serving of Powerade, for example, contains 44g of sugar, 160 mg of sodium and 234 calories.

If all this makes you think choosing a diet soda is a better alternative, think again. Chemicals like aspartame are associated with increased appetite, obesity, and have been linked with neurotoxicity and even cancer. Stevia is a better sugar free substitute, containing a plant compound several times sweeter than sugar, that has no impact on our blood sugar levels.

So, what do we drink? Water, obviously – the ultimate thirst quencher designed by mother nature just for you. But if you want something a little more, try these suggestions:

  • If you must have juice, dilute it half and half with water, especially for children. Overtime, you might even be able to do a 1:4 juice to water ratio, and find it perfectly sweet.
  • For a delicious alternative to sugar laden sodas or fruit juices, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to seltzer water, with a dash of stevia for calorie free, healthy sweetness. Throw in a sprig of peppermint for fun.
  • Try chilled herbal teas, which are flavorful and contain no sugar. My favorites include peppermint, lemon verbena, or hibiscus with a touch of lavender and fresh ginger. Simply make the infusion as normal, then strain and refrigerate till chilled.
  • For an electrolyte rich drink full of vitamins and minerals, try drinking nettle tea – an herb packed full of nutrients. Place   4 tablespoons of the herb into a quart of water and bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, then strain. Once off the heat, add peppermint or other herbs for flavor if you wish.