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Archive for September, 2012

Click, gurgle, hiss . . . and breathe in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Enjoying a cup of fresh, hot coffee is one of my favorite parts of my morning routine. For years, I’ve taken my coffee with a bit of cream and no sugar–though it’s often accompanied by a bite of organic dark chocolate. For the antioxidant benefits, of course.

Lately, I’ve been adding a bit of spice to my coffee. It started with cinnamon. One of my favorite local coffee shops serves a lovely cinnamon and honey coffee drink, so cinnamon was a natural choice. Then, I saw a bottle of pumpkin pie spice sitting on the counter (it is getting to be the season for everything pumpkin) and a new favorite was born.

pumpkin pie spice and a very special mug from Japan***      © 2012, Juniper Stokes

***A note on the mug: In general, the Japanese love their characters, and this aspect of the culture gradually rubbed off on me during my years in Tokyo. I don’t really know the whole story of this banana guy, but I do know that the writing on his face reads “fu fu shi” in katakana (a Japanese phonetic script). Unfortunately, I don’t know what “fu fu shi” means. The box this awesome little mug came in features a picture of this guy smiling with some sort of wistful tear, while another picture features him sitting in a large easy chair, in a bathrobe, with a fluffy cat. Strange and genius. I love it.

And back to the spices: Adding spice to your coffee, whether you take it black, white, or sweet, is a great way not only to enhance flavor, but also to sneak in a morning health boost. The following spices are some of my favorites (most are found in pumpkin pie spice), and all have some surprising health benefits:

Cardamom

Cardamom has been known to improve digestion and help the body detox naturally. It contains potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and manganese.  In ayurveda, cardamom is thought to help balance all three doshas, or types of body constitutions, though it is especially good for kaphas, the more earthy and grounded dosha.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is total powerhouse spice with a long list of benefits. It’s relaxing and calms anxiety, and it’s helpful for indigestion and nausea. It has antibacterial properties that fight bacteria in the mouth to help relieve bad breath. As far as detoxing goes, nutmeg is thought to be especially beneficial for the liver and kidneys. Nutmeg has also been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Nutmeg contains Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Cloves

Cloves are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant, and they may help provide relief from a variety of ailments related to these areas. They are also good for nausea, and may benefit the heart. They are also thought to encourage mental focus and creativity. Cloves are a source of Vitamin K and manganese.

Ginger

Ginger is another great warming spice. It’s well known for soothing all sorts of digestive issues, including nausea and gas. It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties, and is known to boost the immune system. Ginger is another spice that may help the heart, as well. Ground ginger is a great source of manganese.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another powerhouse spice. It has the ability to lower LDL cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and provide arthritis relief. Cinnamon has antibacterial properties and has been shown to help with fungal infections (such as candida). It has been connected to improvements in memory and cognitive functioning, and it’s packed with nutrients, including fiber, calcium, iron, and manganese.

cinnamon, from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even if coffee isn’t your thing, there are plenty of ways to sneak these health-boosting spices into your morning. Try adding them to oatmeal, yogurt, or a morning protein shake.

Safety–More is not always better. Some of these spices can have negative effects if taken in large quantities. A little daily flavoring is all you need to enjoy their benefits.

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I still remember my first trip to Europe. I was 20 years old and I had what I thought was a great camera. A film camera. That’s right. When I was 20 years old, digital cameras were still far beyond the reach of the average person. This meant, especially for an indecisive Libra like me, that every photograph was taken with an extra pinch of stress. Is it worth it? Is this really the view/angle/timing I want? What if there is a better picture later, and I’ve run out of film?

And then came digital. My first digital camera was some sort of old Canon point-and-shoot. I remember taking 200 pictures of my pets within the first weekend of owning it. Soon I evolved to nature photography, where I would take 50 pictures of a piece of moss, convinced that fine art was in the making.

The results of these early pictures were silly, but the process was fun. Eventually, I upgraded to a Canon digital SLR, added an Olympus Tough, and for some reason regressed to a ridiculously cheap (with quality to match) Nikon digital point-and-shoot.

In my life so far, I have been to 39 countries, and I have taken one or more of these lovely inventions with me on every trip. I can’t say my photography skills ever actually improved from pet and moss photo shoots, and I seem to be incapable of actually reading a manual. Still, all the travel I’ve done has left me with some improved subject matter and wonderful memories.

I’ve decided to start sharing some of these photographed memories on what will be “Photo Fridays”, so here is the first:

© 2008 Juniper Stokes

Batur Volcano at Sunrise, © 2008 Juniper Stokes

It’s a bit dark (taken before sunrise), and taken with my first, old, digital camera. Still, I love the clouds! I took this picture during my first trip to Bali back in 2008. I was doing a week-long yoga retreat in Ubud, the cultural (and now new-agey yogi) center of Bali. The morning this photo was taken, we had awoken at 3am to drive to a viewpoint of the famous Batur Volcano for a sunrise practice. We warmed up with several sun salutations, which had never felt more appropriate, and then agreed to take a break from practice and soak in the vision before us. Above the cloud line, we could see the clear peak of the volcano, a sacred mountain reaching toward the heavens. The towering clouds next to the volcano seemed to be striving for even greater heights of consciousness. I snapped this photo and continued to soak in the view for a bit before returning to a magical morning practice.

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Anyone who has ever grown zucchini or other types of summer squash knows that come late August, it’s on. It’s time to figure out how to eat, use, and give away 3-5 pounds of squash a day for roughly an entire month. Personally, I love this challenge. The kitchen is where I am able to release a lot of my creative energy, and I find that more often than not, challenges and restrictions lead to innovative new ideas and recipes that I never would have discovered otherwise.

So far this squash season, I’ve already made many different squash sautés and a great veggie soup, I’ve shredded and frozen bags of zucchini for savory pancakes this winter, and I’ve had many a veggie barbecue involving squash (okay, my dad did the actual barbecuing, but I created some great marinades).

One of my favorite new ways to use up summer squash was originally based on a recipe from Vegetarian Times, which you can check out here: Greek Zucchini Salad Recipe | Vegetarian Times.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Greece, and I have to say Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines. This recipe really captures the flavors of Greece in the summer, with lemon, mint, olive oil, and feta flavoring the squash. As a bonus, I could also look to my own garden for the mint and parsley. The recipe is really pretty good as it’s written on the VT website, although I prefer to use 1/2 cup onion rather than an entire cup, as the recipe suggests.

Check out the recipe on their website, or here:

Greek Zucchini Salad from the Vegetarian Times

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini or squash, (somehow) peeled into thin ribbons
  • 1 medium sweet onion (I only use 1/2 onion)
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Stir together lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil in large serving bowl. Add zucchini and onion, and toss to coat. Cover and marinate overnight, or up to 2 days. Sprinkle with feta, green onions, mint and parsley just before serving, as well as salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe is really pretty easy, but my kitchen is in no way equipped with fancy tools, and thinly slicing squash and zucchini into pretty ribbons turned out to be a bit more difficult than I would have liked. I tried using a simple vegetable peeler for one salad, which left me with a few pretty ribbons and a lot of messy globs. In the end, using a food processor to thinly slice the squash worked well.

From there, I marinated the squash, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, onion, and garlic overnight, then topped the dish with chopped mint, parsley, green onion, and feta right before serving. The salad was a complete hit.

Greek Squash Salad © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I love that this recipe uses raw zucchini. Though I don’t tend do well eating completely raw, I do try to eat 50-80% raw. The healthy enzymes and unaltered vitamin and minerals in raw foods are healing for our bodies on many levels. Though the feta means this salad is officially neither raw nor vegan, it still packs a super healthy punch. And the feta is just soooo goooood.

Inspired by my success with this recipe, I decided to take the flavors to Asia. Asian version coming soon!

 

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Our tomato harvest this year has been our most successful ever. It’s our first year starting the plants from seed with our new greenhouse, and the results have been amazing.

tomato time © 2012, Juniper Stokes

And can I just give a shout out to heirlooms?  I love the rich color variations, ranging from “tomato” red (haha) to deep violet. And the sweet, true tomato flavor completely spoils me. I don’t know how I’ll go back to store bought this winter (yes, I do try to eat seasonally, but I just can’t go 6+ months without fresh tomatoes).

With all these beautiful tomatoes to play with, I’ve been busy experimenting in the kitchen this year. One of my favorite new recipes is a very simple cold tomato soup that allows the pure flavors of the tomatoes to shine. The soup is packed with healthy ingredients, naturally rich, and completely vegan. With a bit of attention to ingredients, this summer soup can easily be made raw.

Tomato Summer Soup

Ingredients:

  • about 6 medium-small tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp agave*
  • 1/4 cup olive oil*
  • salt to taste

*Not all agave nectars and olive oils are raw, but raw versions are available. Try Xagave and Bariani olive oil.

Instructions:

The instructions are really pretty easy–put everything in a food processor and voila! I chop the tomatoes into fourths before blending, as well as the garlic. I recommend serving this soup in small bowls or cocktail glasses, as it really is rich.

tomato summer soup © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Variations:

I’ve also made this soup with a combination of basil and parsley, as well as extra garlic. With these ingredients, you can’t go wrong. A bit of parsley is delicious, and more garlic to taste only ups the health benefits.

For the raw foodies among you, I think this would make a great raw sauce for zucchini pasta.

Once again, enjoy!

 

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Today, in the northern hemisphere, we are experiencing the fall equinox. Twice a year, we have a balance of day and night, once in the fall (the autumnal equinox), and once in the spring (the vernal equinox). Here in the north, March offers our vernal equinox, while September brings the autumnal  equinox.

Among the ancient Celts, all changes of seasons were sacred times to be celebrated with ritual and festivity, and the autumnal equinox was no exception. Today, this holiday is called “Mabon” on the modern Pagan wheel of the seasons:

File:Wheel of the Year.svg

Similar to our modern Thanksgivings, the autumnal equinox is a time to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for the fruits of our labors. It is also a time for generosity and sharing our bounty with our neighbors and communities.

As our gardens go through seasons of seeding, fruitfulness, harvest, and rest, so do the cycles of our lives. The autumnal equinox presents a transition from the creative, manifesting, and active  energy of summer to the reflective, grateful, and rewarding time of fall. Now is the time to look at what we have created over the past year. What seeds did we plant, and how have they grown? What have our past actions brought us? Which projects have been successful, and which must we return to again in the next cycle? As the days of our year continue to shorten and nights begin to lengthen, we may begin to spend less time in active pursuits, and more time in contemplation and reflection.

The autumnal equinox is also a time for balance, as day and night are of equal length. Astrologically, it is significant that this equinox occurs as the sun enters the sign of Libra, or the scales, once again representing a time of balance and harmony.

Libra scales

I personally love tuning into the seasons in this way. I feel the more I connect to the Earth and its natural cycles, the more balance, and ultimately creativity, I bring to my own life.

Essential Oils for the Autumnal Equinox

Aromatherapy offers a wonderful way to enhance seasonal celebrations, as certain essential oils can assist us with different elements of the season. Here are a few of my suggestions for the autumnal equinox:

Black Pepper is a warming and spicy scent perfect for the fall. It comforts us and brings about a sense of security to help us through times of change.

Cardamom is seasonal and spicy, bringing about a warm enthusiasm to help us celebrate the new season.

Cedarwood, another warming oil, assists us with grounding and strengthens our spirits in times of crisis. This is a wonderful oil to help you deal with the more difficult aspects of seasonal changes.

Cypress is traditionally connected to Pluto, Greek god of the underworld and symbol of psychological transformation. Cypress can assist with unblocking fears that may inhibit change.

Myrrh  brings balance by uniting the physical and spiritual realms. Its effect on the nervous system aids in a sense of calm and tranquility, making it a wonderful oil to use for meditation and reflection.

Patchouli is a wonderfully sensual oil that helps bring us into our bodies more fully. This oil helps us truly enjoy the earthy, celebratory aspects of the autumnal equinox.

Balance and Generosity Blend: This day is all about balance, and a wonderful way to bring balance into your life is to center yourself in your heart. The heart is our center, bringing our roots and our dreams into harmony. The heart is also the center of selfless love and generosity, and this day reminds us to share our gifts and spirit. Three oils that assist in balancing and opening the heart are lavender, rose otto, and bergamot. The following is my blend for opening the heart:

  • 4 drops lavender
  • 2 drop rose otto
  • 2 drops bergamot

With this blend and all single essential oils, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Using blend a diffuser is a wonderful and safe way to enjoy the benefits of essential oils. If you’d like to use any oils directly on your skin, make sure to dilute them first in some sort of carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba.

Enjoy the celebration today with balance, gratitude, and generosity of spirit!

fall colors in Japan

 

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In honor of the fall equinox today, I wanted to post a picture from this week’s harvest.

sugar pumpkins, mixed beans, heirloom tomatoes,  purple plums, fat carrots, yellow summer squash, and zucchini!      © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Well, a sampling of this week’s harvest. In reality the number of tomatoes and squash doubled this, and the photo doesn’t include all the fresh herbs we’re still getting!

Traditionally, fall, or autumnal, equinox marks a time to celebrate the transition of seasons. Day and night are of equal length, nature is in balance, and the time for harvest has arrived. Today is a day to give thanks for the seeds we have planted and the efforts we have given to them, as we transition into reaping the gifts of what we have sown.

I will certainly be celebrating as I create a few dishes from this year’s bounty. More recipes to follow!

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I love fresh green beans. They are one of my favorite summer foods. And the green beans from our garden are top notch. I don’t know what the magic factor is, but I swear, there is something special about our garden’s green beans. Even my lizard (a bearded dragon who lived a long and happy life) would snub store-bought beans in favor of our home grown ones.

Maybe it’s all the love and good vibes we send to the garden . . . or maybe it’s the organic compost painstakingly collected all year. Whatever the reason, I’m very happy to be able to walk out the back door and eat fresh beans off the vine.

This year, we tried some tri-colored bush beans in addition to regular green beans:

purple, yellow, and green beans from the garden © 2012, Juniper Stokes

With beans this good, I find simpler is better for serving them. Here’s my favorite way to enjoy garden beans.

Perfectly Steamed Green Beans with Dill

  • 1-2 cups green beans (or tri-colored!)
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • butter, salt, and pepper to taste*

*I use olive oil instead of butter to make a vegan version.

First, prepare the beans by washing them and trimming the ends. I like to leave the beans long, but but feel free to chop them into bite-sized pieces if you prefer. Next, bring a small amount of water to boil under a steamer insert in the bottom of a medium-sized pot. Once the water is boiling, turn the burner to medium heat and add the beans. Next sprinkle the dill over the beans to allow them to absorb the flavor as they cook.  For perfectly steamed beans, cook covered for 5 minutes, then remove the beans from the heat. The beans can continue to sit in the steamer for another 4-5 minutes without getting too mushy. Serve the beans with a dollop of butter and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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