Sunday, February 13, 2011

The spicy side of life

I love cayenne pepper.  Well really, I love spice.  I love spicy foods and sometimes I seem to go through phases where the food cannot be spicy enough!  Other times my palate longs for a more sophisticated and complex taste structure and I don’t eat as much spice in my diet.  But then I have something that lights my mouth on fire and it’s like hanging out with an old friend and the two of us just pick up right where we left off.  I always knew that adding some cayenne pepper was not only a powerful flavor boost and a little bit of a rush but that it was aiding in my health.  Chefs who like to cook spicy food are quick to tell you that countries popular for their use of chili peppers have the lowest rate of cancers.  White people who live in places like Mexico swear that they stay cool during unbearably hot weather by eating spices that make them sweat (which in turn cools them down).  But ask your Mexican friends why they eat so many peppers…they’ll tell you it just tastes good.  I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life, therefore I’ve worked with a lot of Latinos and my favorite family meals have always been the ones they make…so many hot flavors…but my favorite moment of these meals is when one of the guys inevitably pulls out his own hot sauce from his bag because ours isn’t hot enough for him!

We’re all probably more than a little familiar with the Master Cleanse or maybe you remember it as the Lemonade Diet?  Well it was called the Master Cleanse because some herbalists refer to cayenne as the Master Herb and cayenne feature prominently in that diet.  Now…before you think I’ve lost my mind completely do not for a second think that I’m going to tell you that my latest cleanse phase is this stupid drink.  Nope!  Don’t worry!  You can continue to read!  I like food.  I like to cook.  I like to eat.  And I think that it was pretty scary when all those silly girls were running around NYC (and elsewhere I’m sure) consuming nothing but lemon water with cayenne and maple syrup.  Any diet that warns against exercise while you’re on it is NOT good for you!!!  They’re trying to tell you that you’re not getting any nutrients and that you might pass out!  If you're reading this and you're on this lemonade-cleanse...stop what you're doing and eat something now!  Or look in the mirror...see those dark circles under your eyes?  Not hot!

But the cayenne thing is a smart move.  Peppers have capiscum (I should note they also have good ol’ fashioned vitamin A which is a pretty powerful anti-oxidant in it’s own right).  Capiscum is the thing that makes them hot and spicy.  This stimulates your cardiovascular system, increases your metablolism, and has anti-flammatory and anti-bacterial qualities…it cools you down.  It cuts your appetite.  It has been shown to not only prevent heart disease but I once read somewhere that a doctor stopped a heart attack on the spot by making a patient drink cayenne tea!  It is used in both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda to treat stomach, digestive and intestinal issues.  Native American medicine uses it topically for snake bits, and anti-itching (and sometimes for arthritis pain!).  Nutritionists recommend it for it’s detoxifying properties (it does make you sweat!)

Me?  I’ve used it to treat colds.  Not for myself, because I never seem to get sick but others do…I’ll make a tea of lemon, honey, chamomile, and cayenne (sometimes ginger...also a beauty!).  Man!  That cayenne just kicks serious ass on mucus!  It’s a great natural headache medicine too.  A couple of years ago I had terrible headaches (due to my terrible liver chi apparently) and my acupuncturist recommended hot water with lemon and cayenne to help move the blood and increase circulation to my liver…headaches went away!  I like to sprinkle it on food because…well, hey read all the above and your buddy Pedro is does taste good!  Lately instead of another cup of coffee or tea when I’m craving that get up and go feeling or I’m tired and unfocused I’ll have a glass of water with lemon and cayenne…no need to drink it really gets the circulation going!  And…as always I have to mention my juices.  In my green juice, I’ve been adding sea salt and cayenne (or sometimes turmeric but that’s another post).  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Green Juicy Couture

Well I promised you that I would tell you what I’ve been doing differently.  First let’s talk about how this cleanse came about.  If you know me at all…and I’m assuming you do because no one else is reading this J…you know I have my yearly tradition of taking a month off of alcohol.  I usually do this in February as it is indeed the shortest month.  But this year I had a vacation planned in February and there was no way I was going to do that and not drink.  Also I haven’t felt super healthy lately and all signs kept pointing to my diet. I should stress that I do normally eat quite healthily…by most standards but I do have my vices and my concern was that these were the exact things that were not making me feel so great.  Let me clarify…for me not feeling well is headachey…raging insomnia, itchy and blotchy skin, general bitchiness (and no I’m not just like that), fatigued and having sore muscles.  I told myself that I would “do” my month off of booze in January and that I would also “get back on track” with my diet to see if I could fix my skin and get some sleep. 

You see, I’ve been seeing acupuncturists for quite some time for my insomnia and skin problems and unlike Western Healers (aka doctors who prescribe pills) acupuncturists always ALWAYS a-l-w-a-y-s ask you what your diet is like.  How can what we eat not be affecting our health?  It definitely affects our skin, which is our largest organ.  I was really no stranger to this idea.  I’ve spent countless hours researching what foods I should eat and have been told over and over again what foods I should not eat.  And I’ve sometimes had conflicting advice.  Hell, I’ve even confused myself.  Way before this particular cleanse I could tell you all about the miracle food that is a cucumber.  I could tell you about the time I went on an avocado and wheatgrass diet.  I could tell you about my juice fast (or you could scroll way down and read about that debacle in an earlier entry entitled “cleanse this”).  I’ve done a few elimination diets where I got rid of dairy one time and ate only seafood another time.  I’ve been told to eat only river fish and never a raw carrot. I gave up coffee once or twice.  I once went 2 years without ever eating anything white.  But usually out of laziness or boredom I would find myself eating the way I normally do…which for the record isn’t like I’m standing in the kitchen at 4am in my panties chugging dr. pepper and shoving frozen pizzas in my mouth…but it is clearly affecting me.

My “normal” diet usually consists of:
For breakfast non fat greek yogurt with some granola or Ezekiel cereal with some sort of fruit and ground flax or almonds sprinkled on top for breakfast and a vat of coffee.  On my weekends I’ll usually start off with a bagel with a ton (I’m not even kidding) of butter which might be one of my favorite bad for me foods of all time (the butter not the bagel) or some toast with peanut butter.

Lunch at work consists of a salad and some sort of small meaty thing.  Or if I’m feeling crazy I’ll have pasta.  On my weekend I’ll sometimes make a leftover salad using up everything in the fridge or we’ll go out to eat and it is lately been very meaty.

Dinner is usually fish and veggies.  No dessert unless it’s a holiday or we’re on vacation.  Unless you count the random dark chocolate bar…pretty rare.  And this is the same for work or at home.

See…on paper, it’s not terrible but what you don’t see in here is the booze and sugary things that pop up.  The processed flour in the bagels toast and pasta…the meat even if organic (hopefully) is still just something dead rotting inside my intestines, and I barely even had a vegetable until dinner so that is clearly not enough to undo the damage of everything else…barely any whole grains and no legumes…and I do love it when they make cookies for family meal at work!

I decided to start adding more veggies and fruit to my diet.  And being me and having done an obscene amount of research I knew that in order to actually clean my insides out I would have to put more fruit and veggies into me than I would realistically be able to eat so I bought a juicer.  Originally the plan was to eat more fish and veggies everyday and start juicing then the more I was reading up on nutrition and food policy the more freaked out I was becoming regarding all animal farming.  Between the inhumane treatment of the animals and the workers and the intense impact on our environment you have to wonder why we’re so hell bent on eating this stuff.  And with the regulations being so loosey-goosey on food labels we just don’t really know what we’re eating anymore…unless you know where you’re food is coming from that is.  I decided that I would spend a month eating a mostly raw, vegan diet…just to see how I felt.  I didn’t put any pressure on myself to feel the need to continue it beyond the month and, of course, my honeymoon was coming up so I knew I’d want to eat and drink whatever I wanted anyways…so I began.  You read my feelings about getting freaked out on the animal industry and factory farming so that helped my decision on re-trying veganism for a month but why raw?  I went raw to try to maximize my enzyme and nutrient intake while cleansing to help rid my body of toxins. 

What toxins?  The toxins that come from eating and drinking things like meat, fish, dairy (Oh my dairy is a doozy!), sugars, and flours.

I have to say that a couple of weeks into being raw I realized that I was being a little too aggressive about it and started to get a little flexible with myself.  I would eat raw until dinner or I would choose a cooked meal for the day.  Then with all the snow storms and the cold evil that is NYC in January…and working a lot of hours on my feet I really began to need more food.  It was about the third week when I started making some grains and beans to take with me to work and started sautéing up some greens to have alongside some dishes.  But I stayed away from all animal products, all alcohol, most caffeine, flours, and all sugars. 

And I felt great.  I looked pretty good too… my skin looked more vibrant and glowy and dewy.  I lost a few pounds.  And except for a few nights…I slept really well.  I had no headaches.  I felt happier and I had tons of energy.  I wasn't super-bitch. The only downside was that I needed to eat every 2-3 hours.  So…that meant bringing food with me…which was kind of a pain in the ass at first but I got over it!

The mainstays of my daily diet on the cleanse were brown rice, sautéed or roasted veggies, raw vegetable salads, hemp and coconut milks, Ezekiel cereals, avocados!!, beans, drinking lots of water with lemon or limes, and tons of juice.  I made a few batches of oatmel or barley or quinoa.  I became obsessed with a raw kale and avocado pressed salad.

But the juice was key.  I made lots of different juices but I think the main one that helped was the green juice recipe that I adapted from Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr. 

Her recipe is: Kale, Romaine, Celery, Broccoli, Ginger, Apple, Cucumber

I would use a version of this recipe everyday and sometimes add cayenne, sometimes lemon, sometimes garlic, sometimes sea salt, sometimes I added fennel instead of broccoli, sometimes carrots, sometimes beets…but I kept it pretty green.  I made a quart of it everyday and drank it on an empty stomach.  I truly believe that this one thing…so full of vitamins and chlorophyll just cleaned my skin right up and helped me clean my organs of all that junk!  Combine that with not adding anymore junk to clean up and I was doing great!

So, that book Crazy Sexy Diet is pretty damn inspiring…I mean the author kicked Cancer’s ass with her diet!  But there have been other books that have been super helpful for me as well…I do also really love Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet which is still vegan and not raw but really moving to a macrobiotic version of healthy eating.  And there’s Juicing for Life by Cherie Calbom, Healing Your Body With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford is a classic that has been near and dear to me for a longtime.  There’s a million websites you can visit for recipes like Kristen’s Raw which is pretty awesome.  And on the matter of food policy….if you want nightmares or to have your Bolognese forever ruined…the books that have been haunting me are The Omnivore’s Dilema by Michael Pollan, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and Mark Bittman’s Food Matters.

These resources are to name but a mere few of the ones that have inspired me lately…I hope to share more with you…the list is quite endless.  But with each book I read or article I find online or recipe I try I think I’m getting closer to the Carolyn Diet…the one that works for me.