Category: Health

Lacquered Carrots to the Rescue

Image 1Um, yum!

This may look like a Halloween treat, but it’s actually the perfect side dish for an easy peasy fall meal. For me, that means buying an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods and then pairing it with fresh vegetables from the CSA box.

I love carrots any old way – juiced, raw, roasted – but this recipe elevates the common root vegetable repertoire. No improvisation this time (as I’m prone to do), I just follow the recipe to the letter. From one of my favorite cookbooks, The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld: “These carrots are sweet but not cloying.” You said it, Myra!

Lacquered Carrots with Coriander

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c dry sherry or mirin
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 lb carrots, cut in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal cuts
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground coriander

Throw everything in a large skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until carrots are tender (about 15 min).

Uncover and cook, stirring constantly, until the carrots caramelize (about 6 min). Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.

And that’s it. So easy.  This time I transferred the cooked carrots to a plate, returned the skillet to heat, threw in a minced garlic clove and some kale, dash a salt – voila! In a few minutes I had the perfect medley meal. Whatever juices were left in the pan made a nice finish for the kale as well.

Image 2All so scrumptious, but the carrots really steal the show. Perhaps I should call chicken the side dish. Or wingman to my carrot.

Strange Afflictions – Crazy Clown Lips Disease (aka Cheilitis + Angioedema)

IMG_2077Last December, I boarded a plane to Florida to visit family for the holidays. By the time my cross-country flight landed, I had tingly red lips. Itchy. Swollen. This had never happened to me before, yet my mom had had a similar issue, one I dubbed “crazy clown lips disease.” For a more scientific explanation, look up cheilitis and angioedema (beware that scary images of lip swelling abound).

For Mom it started out of the blue one day (just like me); she thought it was linked to her new high blood pressure medication. Bouncing from doctor to doctor, no one could figure out the problem. She was finally sent to an allergist who told her, “You’re not allergic to anything, you’re dehydrated.” She stepped up the water intake and the lip issue eventually resolved.

IMG_5458Armed with that familial knowledge, I believed I too was dehydrated. I’m sure I was. It was winter – and certainly long-distance plane rides can dry you out. When I returned to San Francisco I set out a glass pitcher filled with 64 ounces of water and aimed to drink it everyday. Most days I drank even more (up to 12 eight-ounce glasses), and my body seemed to want it.

I felt less sluggish, my skin looked better, and yet….the lips! Here’s the synopsis of my never-ending cycle: lips blow up to twice their normal size, burning and bright red, then after a couple of days the swelling recedes and lips shed like snake skin, leaving a set of baby-skin-tender lips to start the cycle again.

Here’s how bad it got: I couldn’t bear to have food touch my lips (it would get embedded like quicksand); the tine of a fork could start a geyser of blood from a paper-thin tear; lipstick seemed to permanently tattoo my lips; I had to drink wine from a straw (oh the horror).

Bee Stung = Ouch!

Bee Stung = Ouch!

My extreme discomfort pushed me to share my dilemma with every person I met. How could they not notice this hideous disfigurement? In truth, most of them couldn’t tell a thing. My running joke: “People pay good money for this.” Beestung lips may be desirable for some, but in my case I really felt the sting!

My condition seemed directly linked to sun/wind exposure. Here in SF, I am constantly exposed to high winds. And I’m constantly outside (walk to work, walk to store, walk to restaurant). My lips hurt wherever I go. Aquaphor is the only thing that protects them from the elements, yet I have to keep reapplying (and I don’t like the idea of eating petroleum jelly on a daily basis). Too much heat or wind-whipping, and they will swell anyway, especially if I drink alcohol after spending time in the sun.

Five months in, I finally caved and went to the dermatologist. I was going on a Bahamas cruise and didn’t want to blow-up on the boat. The doc gave me two applications (one antibiotic, the other steroid). I applied them both for seven days, and my lips felt great. As soon as the treatment stopped, however, the problem came right back. I could tell the steroid ointment helped – I really wanted to maintain that “normal” feeling – but the doctor warned that steroids cause thinning of skin and cannot be used indefinitely.

My mom’s condition lasted 4-5 months. In her case, the redness/itchiness extended into her cheeks (Joker lips). My irritation never got too far outside the vermilion border (lip edge). But I did have that crazy recurring blow-up swelling, which didn’t happen to her.

IMG_6526Then I had an epiphany: one day I applied an “agave lip mask” moisturizer before heading off to teach a class. I did not go outside (drove from garage to garage), and by the end of class my mouth was aflame. This was no weather-induced flare up! I googled the product and sure enough, other women were having similar allergy issues. In fact, all the lipstick/lip gloss I was using from that same brand was causing a reaction.

You must think I’m pretty dumb. How could I not know I was allergic to my lipstick? I guess because I used it for over a year with no problems. In fact, I loved this brand so much that I got rid of most of my other lip products. Right before I started having the lip issue, I bought another shade of my favorite gloss. Then I wore it on that fated plane ride to Florida…..

Bite Beauty, I will miss you

Bite Beauty, I will miss you

Most people love this new brand: Bite Beauty. Organic ingredients. Food grade. I thought I was doing my lips a favor. Turns out “all natural” doesn’t necessarily mean allergy-free. It could be a reaction to lanolin (also found in some Burt’s Bees products). It could be the dyes – Bite uses food dyes since they are “food grade” products. I don’t know the answer yet. I do know that other lipstick/gloss brands are not causing the blow-ups. If I’d paid more attention earlier, I could’ve saved myself a lot of lip ache.

So it’s been a full seven months, including five weeks since the last Bite blow-up reaction. How are my lips now? Still extremely dry, still very sensitive to the elements. I walk around like a scarfed bandit, dreaming up clever ways to cover my mouth – wax lips, football mouth guard. I’m waiting for that day when my lips feel normal again (Mom says it’s coming). Until then, these are my tools:

wax lips1. Drink plenty of water
2. Organic coconut oil before entering shower
3. Organic Shea butter – thick and moisturizing
4. Ultra Repair Lip Therapy by First Aid Beauty
5. Aquaphor for the best protection from wind/sun
6. Avoid drying lipsticks, pay attention to ingredients

The Simple-Minded Chef builds Roots

IMG_6211Honestly, sometimes I feel like such a klutz in the kitchen. I’m slow, I’m uncoordinated. And yet…..I can get lost in a dreamy state just chop-chop-chopping away. It’s nice. I’m creating something. Hopefully something that is not just edible, but actually delicious. That’s my goal anyhow.

So tonight I wait as my first attempt at some-sort-of gratin cooks in the oven. I had an unusual collection of root vegetables to cook up from the CSA box: kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas. I loosely combined a couple of gratin recipes from my trusty Alice Waters book, Vegetables.

I peeled the kohlrabi and rutabagas (though I hate to peel, with these two, it’s a must). Then I threw everything into my food processor using the quarter-inch slicing blade. I buttered a 9 x 12 baking dish and started constructing my layers: kohlrabi slices on the bottom, topped with salt, pepper and thyme, sprinkled with green garlic (which resembles green onions). Same treatment to the next layer (turnips). Rutabagas ended up on top.

IMG_6214Then I was supposed to add milk, but when I opened the refrigerator there was none. Crap! Now what? The recipe said “moisten up to the top layer with cream, cream and chicken stock, or milk.” I had to improvise with vegetable stock and almond milk (about a cup of liquid total).

I sprinkled Parmesan over the top layer and put the dish in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. I tell you, it sure does smell good. The timer just beeped and I’m staring at a nicely-browned gratin.

How does it taste? The turnips and kohlrabi are divine – perfectly seasoned and tender. The rutabagas? A little dry and woody in texture. Next time I will know to put them on the bottom and perhaps use the thinner slicing blade as they obviously take longer to cook. I scooped out a big portion of the two bottom layers, stirred the rutabaga slices in the remaining pan juices and returned to the oven for 10 more minutes.

I am giving this experiment a thumbs up. I didn’t miss the milk at all (the veg stock was key though I’m not certain the almond milk did much to add or detract from the flavor). Once fully cooked, the rutabagas were just as delicious as the rest. And their yellow hue provided a little color contrast. Turnips and kohlrabi (both white on the inside) were hard to differentiate here – their flavors complement each other so nicely, they might as well be twins.

Ah, such a satisfying dish and a nice break from our too-familiar friend, the potato. I love it when I try using new-to-me vegetables and it works out. It certainly builds my cooking confidence in the kitchen. Maybe I’m not so much simple-minded as single-minded: I’ve realized my goal of creating something delicious!


Tick Tock Chicken Salad

Sunday night – staring at Friday night’s carcass in the fridge. We bought an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods and only ate half of it. Now it’s time to make the rest into chicken salad. So what else do I have in the fridge that needs to be used up quick? Some celery, green onions, plain yogurt, half a lime, one Gala apple. Perfect. I think this is going to work!

This is a no-mayo recipe; not that I’m against mayo, I just rarely have it on hand. Fortunately it’s possible to make tasty chicken salad without it. So let’s get started:

Image 42-3 cups pulled or cubed chicken
1 green onion
1/2 c celery
1/2 c apple
1/4 c walnuts
3/4 c plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon or lime
2 tsp Herbs de Provence
1 TBSP mustard (dijon or spicy)
Salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Mix everything together in a big bowl. Yessss! All those random about-to-expire items are now attractively reassembled and ready to serve. Love when that happens.

Come Monday, I’m going to have one delicious lunch!

My Faux (Grits) Pas: Cauliflower Fail

ImageI love making dinner out of whatever bits and pieces I can find in the kitchen. Most of the time this works quite well, especially with accessible internet recipes and my favorite cookbooks on hand.

Last night I opened up my Alice Waters’ Vegetables book to the chapter on cauliflower and tried a new recipe: Cauliflower Soup with Salmon Caviar. Did I have salmon caviar on hand? No. But I had a beautiful cruciferous head of yummyness and some fresh Italian parsley from the CSA farm box. What could go wrong?

Image 3The soup was lovely to look at, but without the contrasting tang (and salt) of roe it was rather dull – even when topped with green onions and the divine butter-fried croutons that I whipped up in the sauté pan. I did not have the recommended dollop of crème fraîche. A few shavings of cheese helped, but….eh.

Today I brought out the leftovers hoping for improvement (homemade soup does usually taste better the next day). It was thicker than the night before, more like porridge than soup. I nuked it for only a minute (the recipe said to serve tepid or room temperature). I tasted the same blandness. Doctored it up with a drizzle of olive oil, more salt and pepper, and a heavy sprinkling of Parmesan. Suddenly it had the consistency and flavor of grits. I invented faux grits.

Vegetarians, rejoice! Just what you’ve always wanted! But wait, aren’t regular grits already vegetarian? Who needs faux grits? No one, I guess – unless there are no grits in the kitchen.

Image 1(My less-than-obvious point here is that you should make this recipe. Look how pretty it is. Make it better than me. And get the damn roe.)

  • Boil one head of cauliflower in salted water until tender.
  • Roughly purée in food processor with some of the reserved pot liquor.
  • Return to pot and thin with milk to desired consistency. Simmer 5 minutes.
  • Add some Italian parsley and simmer 2 minutes more.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Serve with green onions, butter-fried croutons, and something far more exciting than a few shaves of cheese, please. Get original recipe here.

Bitter-Sweet: Let’s Eat

imageTime to use up that Swiss chard (it goes bad pretty quick, you know). Let’s see, what else do we have? Why, a sweet little sugar pumpkin makes the perfect pairing. So here we go: Swiss chard and lentils with a side of mashed pumpkin. Delicious!

Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds (I like to use an ice cream scoop for this job). Add a dab of organic raw coconut oil in each half and bake cut side up in 375 oven for 45 min (can turn over halfway through cooking). Meanwhile, put half a cup lentils and one cup water in a small pot and gently simmer until water is mostly gone (around 30-40 min), then turn off heat and cover.

Saute a minced garlic clove in 1 TBSP olive oil for 1 minute, then add chopped Swiss chard stems. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add another TBSP of oil and the chard leaves and stir over medium heat until leave are bright green and barely wilted. Turn off heat, add the lentils. Salt and pepper. Squeeze of lemon.

Remove pumpkin from oven and let cool slightly. Use that ice cream scooper to transfer the pumpkin flesh to a bowl. Add a pat of butter. Salt and pepper liberally. Herbes de Provence sea salt from Spice Ace really puts the flavor over the top.

The timing is very easy here; it all comes together nicely. The colors, textures and tastes are in perfect balance. It’s bitter-sweet, and just right!

Note: This pairing can easily be made vegan by substituting more coconut oil for the butter.




Strange Afflictions – Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud-hand2This is first in a series of posts where I’m sharing what I call my strange afflictions. I guess all afflictions seem “strange” when we face something that we consider to be “not normal” in our own bodies. They can be congenital (from birth) or be the result of an injury, or sometimes just inexplicably appear, like Raynaud’s Phenomenon.

This is my experience: In 2005, I started a part-time job working as an usher at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. I couldn’t wait to be on my feet, showing people to their seats while listening to incredible live music. I was in my mid-30s; it had been awhile since I’d worked a job like this (standing for several hours straight), probably not since my days as a waitress in college. I was thrilled to be out from behind a desk. I wanted action!

I forgot that “on your feet” jobs can sometimes include long periods of standing in one place, which is tough on the knees, feet, back. And I wasn’t 20 anymore. The very first week, I noticed something strange going on with one of my toes by the end of my shift.  My second toe was red and swollen. I was convinced it was a spider bite (a painful, itchy blister forming at the tip). The next night I had to wear hiking boots to work, as these were the only shoes wide enough to fit over my swollen toe.

I figured, like any bite, it would subside in a few days. It did. But then my middle toe “caught the bug.” That’s when I knew this was no spider bite. But what could it be? I went to the foot doctor, who promptly said, “I think you have lupus.” Ack! What?

He referred me to a rheumatologist who thankfully did not concur. He said, “You have Raynaud’s, but I don’t think you have lupus.” Ok, good. Now, what was that again? What is this thing I have? And how do I get rid of it?

Not my toes, but a good look at chilblains.

Not my toes, but a good example of chilblains.

The doc gave me a few maintenance suggestions to avoid chilblains (the itchy swollen toe problem that is a common symptom of Raynaud’s) and sent me on my way. I supplemented that with internet searches. It’s common for Raynaud’s sufferers to see their extremities (especially toes/fingers) turn patriotic colors (red, white, blue) during colder weather. It can feel similar to frostbite, though the temps do not have to dip too low to cause a reaction. I figured out that wearing socks that are too thick (which in turn make my shoes too tight) will trigger it. Baths that are too hot will trigger it. Sometimes my entire feet will turn blue or red without much provocation. More than once (in yoga class) I’ve had someone say to me, “Um, why is your foot blue?” It’s not cool having smurf feet.

I’ve been living with Raynaud’s for nine years now. I’ve been able to keep my toes fairly in check; not many flare-ups lately, though I still see tale-tell signs of poor circulation (puckering of the skin and dry, brittle toenails). Then the other day I noticed what looked like bruising on the lower part of my index finger. Very bluish – as if the blood vessel underneath had burst. Hey wait a minute, didn’t I see the same thing on my ring finger a few weeks ago? Oh….

Top hand shows loss of heat with Raynaud's

Top hand shows loss of heat with Raynaud’s

It’s not as if circulation problems in my fingers are anything new. I’ve had issues with RSI (repetitive strain injury) for years. Repetitive motion and connective tissue diseases are linked to Raynaud’s. That bluish discoloration I’m seeing in my fingers seems to be a result of a recent pinched nerve (literally someone pinched my hand trying to steady me from falling). And by recent I mean three months ago. It didn’t hurt much at the time, but since then I have felt weakness and numbness in that hand. The Mayo Clinic mentions RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a secondary cause of Raynaud’s: “This condition involves pressure on a major nerve to your hand (ulnar nerve) producing numbness and pain in the affected hand. The hand may become more susceptible to cold temperatures and episodes of Raynaud’s.”

It’s important to see a doctor to find out if you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s. While the primary version is benign, there are several more serious conditions that can lead to secondary Raynaud’s (scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome, as well as diseases of the arteries). In addition to a doctor’s visit, I recommend reading about it on the Mayo Clinic site, Wikipedia and this Q & A article from the New York Times.

And here are my own personal tips for keeping Raynaud’s episodes to a minimum:

1. Exercise – this is a circulation problem after all; target range-of-motion exercises in the fingers/toes; yoga is an excellent choice (going barefoot brings circulation to the toes).

2. Wear proper foot gear – most importantly, avoid tight shoes. Thin socks with minimalist-soled shoes works well for me when I’m walking around the city (again, allows for more circulation). I love my Brooks.

3. Avoid standing for long periods of time. If you cannot avoid it, then use pressure-relieving mats and shift your feet often (back in my ushering days, I developed an ants-in-the-pants sort of jig when I had to stand on the hard tile floor).

4. Keep joints comfortably warm (socks, gloves) indoors/outdoors. Fingerless gloves when working on the computer can ease discomfort in the fingers. Avoid quick temp changes (such as grabbing something out of the freezer – use a mitt or dish towel).

5. Ease yourself into a bath instead of jumping into a full tub – allow your toes to warm up slowly under lukewarm water from the faucet before increasing the temperature.

6. Use a Rubz ball on the feet and hands – a small rubber ball with acupressure points. It can help break up scarring/adhesions of the fascia (connective tissue that surrounds the muscles).


Rabbit Hole Juice Redux

Rainbow juiceThis beautiful rainbow-hued juice scares me a little. What will it taste like? And will it turn my teeth purple?

I’ve got another box of fresh veggies on the way; so here I am again, juicing like a madwoman at a wood chipper:


Half a head of red cabbage (hence the purple)

Half a cucumber

A tiny Meyer lemon from the lemon tree

A large red beet

Fennel stalks

Four and a half carrots


Pink-red beet juiceWell looky here, when stirred it becomes a lovely pink-red (beet-hued) drink. And the taste? Perfect! Lightly sweet, not too cabbage-y. I got lucky with this one. And my teeth are still white. Whew!

I’ve had a few mishaps while rabbit-hole surfing with my juicer. Just a small amount of onion juice stung my eyes and made my heart want to leap out of my chest. Oh the burn! Check that off the list. Garlic juice is much more appealing (not on its own, of course). The key is to strike the perfect balance of sweet and bitter/astringent.

Following juicing recipes is a good place to start, but then don’t be afraid to go down that rabbit hole. As long as you’ve got some sweet (carrot, beet), it’s hard to go wrong. I believe almost any juice can be fixed with a touch of apple. Not onion juice, no.

As for me, I’m happy with the lightly sweet (a far cry from the overtly sweet juices you’ll find in the store). My father, who loves vegetables, tried juicing once. He took a sip of his concoction and said, “This tastes like the ground.” Perfect! Just the way I like it.


For more juicing tales, click here.


Go All the Way with Your CSA

CSA boxDo you wonder how you can possibly use up everything in your CSA box? We’re talking Community Supported Agriculture here – a brilliant idea that’s taken hold in the past few years with increasing popularity. I’m a big cheerleader of this movement. If you haven’t heard of it, google CSA plus the name of your town and see what comes up.

Being a member of a CSA takes commitment, organization and planning – and a sense of adventure! I had my first taste several years ago while still living in Nashville, Tennessee. A small local farm (following organic practices) ran their CSA from May to November. Members had to sign up in advance and pay up front to secure their share. Somewhere in the range of $475 for 28 weeks – a mere $17 for a big box (3/8 bushel or 3 gallons) of produce every week, which I was able to pick up in my neighborhood.

Here in San Francisco, things are a little different. Much more expensive (of course), but also easier in some ways. I now pay for a box that comes directly to my apartment door every other week. The cost is double – $35 – and the size is smaller. But it’s still cheaper than what I would spend at the grocery store for organic produce (note I’m still averaging $17 per week). There is no big investment up front (it’s pay-as-you-go), and with advanced notice you can skip a delivery if you’re going to be out of town. It’s perfectly flexible for big city living, and the smaller size/less frequent delivery is actually a relief.

The hardest part about joining a CSA is dealing with the abundance. It’s a race against time to use up everything before the next box comes. I like the challenge, though, and take pride in not letting any produce go to waste in our two-person household. Plus I know we’re eating healthier and saving money by eating at home.

Roasted carrots & beets with fried egg

Roasted carrots & beets with fried egg

My husband is not one for seeking out vegetables. He’ll eat fruit voluntarily, but I have to remind him to put lettuce on his sandwich. He’d rather get pizza or brisket at the grocery hot bar than worry about cooking something for dinner. That said, he’s pretty amicable (or at least polite) about eating whatever I put in front of him.

When the box comes, I focus on eating the most perishable stuff first: lettuces, greens, herbs, fruit. I amp up the salads until the lettuce is gone. Then it’s time to get more creative, using a few major tools that help me with the rest.

I find it easy to locate delicious recipes online. That said, I often go old-school and open up some of my favorite cookbooks. Lately I’ve been using Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables, which I bought mainly because the cover was so pretty. What I love about this book, besides the beautiful artwork, is its simplicity. The vegetables are presented in chapters alphabetically, so if I need to know what to do with a beet, I just head to the B’s. Waters gives a background on each vegetable and then offers several delectable (and mostly simple) recipe options. Yay, Alice!

I keep this one on display

I keep this one on display

Another favorite book is The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld. I specifically sought this one out years ago to help me tackle the CSA box. Kornfeld touts “flexitarian recipes designed to satisfy all kinds of appetites.” I love it. Such elegant, tasty dishes abound – and again, most of them doable by the amateur cook. Featuring vegetarian delights as well as some meat-centered recipes (hence “flexitarian”).

I have a couple of Moosewood cookbooks that are old standbys, as well as a specialty pasta cookbook and juicing guide that I use often. Though when it gets down to some random remainders, the internet is often my best bet. Last night I googled “broccoli celery” – two things that I needed to use up before they went bad – and found a great recipe for broccoli celery soup. I had all the ingredients on hand (thanks to the CSA box) and whipped up a delicious homemade soup in about an hour.

A note about kitchen tools: a few appliances are essential when plowing through the CSA box. I couldn’t function without my KitchenAid food processor, Cuisinart immersion blender (with extra chopper) and L’Equip juicer (read more about my juicing and soup stock adventures here).

immersion blenderFood processors save precious time when faced with a lot of chopping, slicing or shredding. As for immersion blenders, don’t even try to make a puréed soup without one – who wants to heft a scalding pot of hot soup into a regular blender? (What a mess!) Once committed to a good-quality immersion blender, life becomes much easier. And if you’re an avid juicer, the CSA will certainly save you time and money with ample supply.

But is cooking with a CSA really easier? Trust me, there’s no need to be afraid of that ridiculous summer bounty. Too many tomatoes? Make a sauce for pasta. Too many potatoes? Use that food processor to slice ’em up and make a frittata or kuku. Zucchini out the wazoo? Sauté with garlic and Parmesan or add to a quesadilla.



Whatever you enjoy eating, the CSA box has a lot to offer. It definitely breaks you out of habitual buying and cooking patterns. I once received a UFO – an Unidentified Feeding Object – in the box. It was the size of a grapefruit, but the color and hardness of a green apple. Meet the Kohlrabi! Who doesn’t love a new vegetable to explore?

Because of the variety, I believe CSA eating is a healthier option. We all get stuck eating the same things over and over. Why not mix it up a bit? Besides, the food is fresher (sometimes pulled out of the ground the same day you get it); I had no idea there could be so many subtle flavors in a carrot or a leaf of lettuce. Local is better and lasts longer. Instead of picking a recipe and then going to the store to buy ingredients that may have traveled a far distance, I let the CSA box guide what I make. So I can feel good about eating locally-grown, seasonal food. It’s a no-brainer; and with the right tools, it’s also a cinch.

So go for it! Go all the way! CSA! CSA! CSA!!!