Tag Archives: simple

Matcha Balls

 

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As many of you know, I am running an ultra marathon in a couple of weeks.  It was convenient timing that I was researching a recipe using matcha around the same time I was to run my longest training run, 27 miles. When running that many miles at once, you have to eat.  You have to eat a lot of food while you are running.  It’s one of the hardest adjustments I had to make when I started running longer distances.  I have tried eating the energy “goo”  packs, which just left me feeling kind of sick, and might or might not have led to some post-run gastro-internal issues. I perform much better when I make my own, real food.

After reading about the “clean” form of caffeine matcha contained, I knew it would be a perfect addition to some mid-long-run snacks. I decided to make some matcha energy balls with whatever I could throw together to make it stick together into a ball.  I used oats, almond butter, honey, goji berries, vanilla, and of course, matcha.

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I mixed the ingredients together, and packed them into a small 1-ounce scoop.  I placed them on a sheet pan, and in the refrigerator.  They came together perfectly, and tasted great!  On the run they were a bit burly.  The next time I make them, I will either soak the oats, or grind them up in the food processor.  Burliness aside, they were magic balls of “zenergy,”  which really made a difference in boosting our energy throughout the run.

Click here for the recipe.

Gotch Your Matcha?

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I am a coffee drinker, but I love tea.  Especially green tea.  Green tea is a great appetite suppressant, and I often drink it when I am trying to make it to my next meal or snack. I had heard of matcha, and I knew it was a type of green tea, but I had never really tried it.  As someone who spends a lot of time reading food blogs, I had noticed that matcha has been quite trendy lately in cooking, and I have even saved several recipes to try.

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I have recently taken on a blogging assignment: to sample and write about some ceremonial grade matcha from Matcha Zen.  I received the cutest little package in the mail.  It was a little cardboard tube with a bag inside full of emerald green matcha from Matcha Zen.  Matcha Zen tea is some of the finest matcha you can buy.  It comes from a region of Japan historically known for cultivating quality matcha. It’s also USDA certified organic.  The matcha at Matcha Zen is not the only “green”  that their into.  They support ethical, and sustainable practices when it comes to sourcing, cultivating, packaging, and marketing this special tea.

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Tea Ceremony

Tea is serious business in Japan.  According to the website, Japanese Tea Ceremony, the tea ceremony has several names, “Chanoyo,”  meaning literally, “hot water for tea,”  or “Sado”  and “Chado,”  which both mean “the way of tea.”  I could go on for days about the history, aesthetics, and essence of the tea ceremony.  It has been going on for over 900 years in Japan, and even before that in China.  People have dedicated their whole lives to studying it.  I am not a scholar of tea, but I am a lover of most everything that involves food and drink. The website describes the tea ceremony as  “…a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture. Even the placement of the tea utensils is considered from the guests view point (angle), especially the main guests called the Shokyaku.”

I love it!  I am always trying to be more “in the moment,” and I love the idea of being fully engrossed in the intricacies of where to place utensils, etc. Also, how touching is it to prepare a cup of tea for a friend “from your heart.”  This captures the essence of what I love about cooking.  Cooking for someone, especially someone you love, the goal or intention is to please. satisfy, or nourish them. Ask anyone what their favorite meal is, and most likely, it will be something that was prepared growing up by their momma.  How come that food tasted so good?  Because it was prepared with thoughtful intention and love.

What is Matcha?

Matcha is a quality green tea that is dried and crushed into a fine powder. The tea leaf is known as tencha. The tea bushes are shade-grown to avoid the exposure of direct sunlight which reduces the pace of photosynthesis and slows the growth of the plants. This stimulates the production of chlorophyll and amino acids, resulting in a dark-green tea leaf. The bright green powder is beautiful brewed into teas, and cooked into food.

Health Benefits of Matcha

Wow!  This stuff is really good for you. The website, Organic Facts, states that matcha is full of nutrients. “It is source of vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, Vitamin E, vitamin K and trace minerals.  Matcha is rich in components with super antioxidant activity including polyphenols, catechins and chlorophyll. Presence of amino acids such as L-theanine and theophylline in the matcha tea makes it a multi nutrient-packed drink.”  These nutrients lead to a number of health benefits. Organic Facts list these health benefits as boosting immune system health, reducing inflammation, and helping to prevent cancer. It also helps with detoxification, cardiovascular health, and boosts metabolism.  Matcha has the equivalent amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. The caffeine in matcha, however is a different for than is in regular coffee. This form caffeine is known as theophylline, and releases amounts of energy in a steady stream. Kaitlin of The Garden Grazer blog describes the caffeine high you get from matcha as “zenery.”  According to Kaitlin, “zenergy”  is the feeling of being energized, yet calm and focused.

A Cup of Matcha

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I decided it was time to make myself a cup of matcha.  I  found a simple description on  how to make it from Bon Appetit’s website.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bamboo whisk, but I did have a small stainless steel whisk that was the perfect size, as well as a small strainer. Even though I didn’t know the proper procedure for a tea ceremony, I did have a very pretty china tea cup that my mom had given me.  I hardly use it, so I thought it was appropriate for the occasion.

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 Bon Appetit stated that you should push the matcha through a strainer into a bowl to sift it so there are no lumps.  You pour in the hot water and whisk the tea until it becomes frothy.  I added a bit of stevia to the tea powder before I whisked in the water.

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 I loved the beautiful deep emerald green color that looked especially pretty with my fancy teacup.  The first sip was a bit bitter, but the more sips I had, the more I loved it.  The stevia helped to balance out the bitter flavor, which left an earthy, umami-type flavor.  I also loved the swirls the powdered tea left when I got toward the bottom of the cup.  I couldn’t help but think of tasseography, or the practice of reading the symbolism in tea leaves to predict the future.  I know there’s a pretty fantastic future to be predicted in the swirly pictures of my cup of Matcha Zen.

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The Recipes

I found endless food blogs with posts about cooking with matcha.  Here are some links to some of my favorites.  Stay tuned for a food recipe using Matcha Zen in the day or two!

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Chocolate Matcha Butter Cups from Keepin it Kind

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Healthy Matcha Green Tea Coconut Fudge from Desserts with Benefits

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Matcha Mochi Yogurt Pops from My Name is Yeh

Mental Health and Meditation

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I could not do a series on what inspires me in health and wellness without addressing meditation. A few years ago, we had recently moved from Vermont to a little town outside of Lake Placid, NY. Everything was going well.  Kirk had a good new job that he enjoyed, we found a great house to rent that was right in front of the school.  The kids had friends to play with, we had great neighbors, and we were fitting right into this wonderful little community.

The only problem was that we were having trouble selling our house in Vermont.  Paying rent and a mortgage was a lot.  We decided to rent the house, which resulted in even bigger headaches, causing me to never ever want to be a property manager.  Among other things, it was really difficult being two hours away.

I had this great life.  I had a great marriage, and great kids. I loved my work, and we lived in this idyllic little town with amazing mountains and great friends.  The house in Vermont, however, was causing me unbelievable stress.  I had heard of the book, The Secret.  I remembered seeing it on Oprah years earlier.  One day Kirk said to me,  “I know it’s a little hokey, but I’ve been watching this movie on Netflix.”  It was The Secret.  I watched it, and watched it again.

I was mesmerized by all of the experts in the movie. They seemed so knowledgeable, and so happy.  The movie is about the Law of Attraction.  The main idea that I took away from it is that you should train your mind to focus on what you want, and not what you don’t want. What you focus on grows.  So, if you don’t want more bills, don’t think about them.  Think about what you want and you will attract more of it.

I started looking up the people in the movie, and looking for their books and  teachings.  I have learned so much from these amazing teachers.  My favorites are Jack Canfield, Joe Vitale, LIsa NIchols, and Michael Beckwith.

They all contribute different ideas and methods, but here’s my little summary of what they all teach:

1. Try and stay as positive as possible.  Look at bad things that happen to you as life lessons that you will emerge from stronger.  Try and avoid negativity.  Distance yourself from negative people, and stop watching the news – it’s very negative.

2. Set goals.  Think hard about what you want in life.  Get clear on this.  Write it down.  The more detailed the better.  Do you want to make more money?  Write down exactly how much.  Do you want to travel to Paris?  When? What are you going to do there?

3.  Tap into source energy.  Source energy comes from the universe, or creator.  This can pertain to whatever deity or Deity moves you spiritually.  You might be thinking how to do this?  The best way is to get quiet and go inside yourself.  The best way to practice doing this is to meditate.

My Mom has been meditating since I was in High School.  She explained it to me, and I tried to do it, but it was really hard.  The thought of it haunted me for years.  It was always in the back of my mind.  “I should try and eat healthier…I should exercise more…I really should start to meditate.”

What exactly is meditation?  The best definition I could find comes from good ole Webster’s Dictionary – to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.  I like to think of it as exercise for your mind.  You basically try and focus your mind on one thing.  Your breath is the “anchor.”  Pay attention to you breath.  What does an inhale feel like?…going into your nose?…your throat?…your chest…?…your belly?  What does an exhale feel like?…going out your nose?…your throat?…your chest…? your belly…?  There are some other things that you can try and focus on, like sounds in the room or sensations in your body.  You can recite a passage or a mantra mentally, and focus on the words.  The goal is to truly be in the moment.  To try and have your mind focus on the present, and not what you have to pick up at the grocery store later. If your mind does wander (and it will), just release the thought and come back to the breath, or the sounds, or the sensations, or the passage. Don’t get frustrated if it is difficult at first. It is a meditation practice.

I started meditating consistently a couple of years ago, and it has changed my life.  My level of stress has gone way down.  My husband and family have noticed the positive change.  It’s also helped me to focus much better on my work, my exercise, and to sleep better.  Overall, it has taught me to live in the moment. and to be more aware of my surroundings.

HOW TO GET STARTED?

The best way to get started is just that, start.  Pick a time and a place where you will not be disturbed.  I wake up at 4:45 in the morning so I have my meditation time.  I recommend starting with some guided meditations.  One of my favorite websites, Fragrant Heart, has a little mini-course you can sign up for (it’s free!).  You get an email every day for five days, lengthening the time each day you meditate.  Elizabeth Blaikie’s sweet voice guides you through, bringing you back when you need it.  Another great website that goes a bit deeper with a meditation course, is Quiet Lotus.  The site offers a five week course, with each week following a theme, also free.

Some other great programs that are not free are Oprah and Depak’s Meditation CD’s.  There’s several themes that you can choose from.  They offer a daily lesson, and then you meditate with a mantra.  It’s hard to go wrong with Oprah and Depak.  Lastly, I want to mention Holosync, by Bill Harris (also from The Secret).  Bill has been meditating so long he is a bona fide zen monk. He has also done extensive research on how the brain works.  His audio program has cues and tones that are supposed to take you deeper than you just meditating on your own.

Now that I have been meditating for a couple of years consistently, it’s become like brushing my teeth.  If I don’t do it, my day doesn’t feel quite right. It’s sometimes difficult to get it in every single day.  Sundays are hard. I need one day to sleep in, but sometimes I can sneak away and find  a bit of alone time later in the day. Even if you can get in five minutes, it’s well worth it.  Overall, if you are a spiritual person or not, I highly recommend meditation.

A book that I’ve read recently, which really explains all of the above in a funny, easy to read, easy to digest book is You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.  I recommend getting the audio book, and listening to it more than once.

Tis The Season for Soup!

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Ah, the Holidays…  Since I have had kids, the season has been kind of a love-hate thing (maybe hate is too strong of a word).  Don’t get me wrong – I love the Christmas story, all of the lights, the parties, the cookies, the music, the food and drink, the tree, and more.  On the flip side, there’s the stress of having enough extra income to pay for gifts, the food and drink, decorations, etc.  Hosting relatives that can be less than the best houseguests.  The bombardment of advertising, the expectations, the thought of having to work off all the food and drink (and cookies), vacuuming all of those pine needles.

My husband always has to work like crazy.  He’s tired and stressed.  Last year I admitted to my mom that I was finding it difficult to enjoy the Holidays, and she laughed out loud for about three minutes.  I guess that is just another one of those parental satisfactions that I will experience when I’m sixty something. I try to keep things simple and easy, but all of the above seems to creep back in. I am trying hard to focus on the LOVE and not the (not) hate.

One thing that keeps me grounded and healthy throughout the season is chicken soup.  As much as I want to jazz it up, the simpler it is, the better.  I love the simplicity of it all.  The methodical simmering of the bones to make the stock.  I love simmering them long enough that when the stock cools, it becomes a solid.  I love gently cooking (sweating) the vegetables, slowly bringing out their flavor, while I gradually add more layers of flavor with salt, pepper, garlic and ginger.

The traditional vegetables for a good chicken soup are onion, celery, and carrots.  I love swapping out the carrots with the delightful root vegetables that are available this time of year.  Parsnips, fennel, rutabaga, celery root, turnips, oh my!  I sometimes try and push the envelope with the celery flavor.  I double up on the celery AND add lots of celery root.  I know. That’s crazy, right?  Celery root is the best.  I suppose slightly adapting subtle flavors on a classic dish like chicken soup while still keeping it simple, is what I love so much about cooking.  These simple, methodical techniques are what I have come to appreciate about cooking after doing it for so many years.

Consider the recipe here a guide for a simple chicken soup.  I encourage you to make it your own. You can add and/or substitute whatever vegetables you want. Add mushrooms and finish the soup with cooked brown or wild rice.  Add some fresh ginger, lots of garlic, and fresh chilies, and finish it with a splash of rice vinegar and tamari for an Asian hot pot.  Play around with the fresh herbs that you finish your soup with.  Add chopped fresh sage, rosemary, basil, thyme or mint.

Buying a raw chicken, roasting or poaching it, and then making stock for soup can be ambitious.  I buy a rotisserie chicken from Earthfare.  They sell nice, regionally produced chickens without antibiotics, hormones, and the like.  The chickens aren’t coated with a bunch of nasty chemicals to season it, either.  Even better, they have already done half of the work for me by cooking it. It has been sitting on a rotisserie, cooking slowly and evenly all day.  The meat is flavorful and fall off the bone tender and juicy.  It’s a better cooked bird than I could have hoped for, and the best part is that it’s actually cheaper than the raw chickens for sale.  Also, these chickens have been cooked so long, that the stock “goodness” that you want to simmer out of the bones, is already on it’s way.  You don’t have to simmer the bones as long to make a great stock.

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The meat is really easy to separate from the bones. I start by removing the legs.  Remove all the skin.  Carefully separate the meat from the bones.  Remove the wings and set them with the leg bones (it’s not really worth my time to separate the small amount of meat from the wings).

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Remove the breast meat from each side of the chicken.  I reserve one of the breasts for other uses, like salads.  Once the breast meat is removed, turn the chicken over and remove all of the meat from the back and whatever is left from the sides of the chicken.

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Pick through all the meat once more to be sure you’ve removed all of the bones and fat.  Dice up the meat and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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Place the bones in a small stock pot or dutch oven. Cover with COLD water.

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Bring the pot to a simmer, and cook slowly for 3-6 hours.  Once the stock is finished, strain it into another container, discarding the bones.

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Meanwhile dice up the vegetables.

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Get another pot or dutch oven hot. Add a bit of olive oil, and then the vegetables.  Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and cook slowly, stirring often until they are translucent and slightly tender.

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I like to add garlic and/or ginger after the vegetables have cooked for a bit.

At this point, add the stock.  If it’s a small amount, I like to strain it right into the soup pot.

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Bring the soup to a simmer, and add the chicken.

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Allow the soup to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together.  Adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.  Finish the soup with fresh herbs.  Add rice or pasta if desired.

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CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE

1 Rotisserie Chicken

¼ cup olive oil

3 small to medium yellow onions, diced small

4 stalks celery, cleaned and diced small

3 parsnips, peeled and diced small

½ celery root, peeled and diced small

3 cloves garlic, small dice

5 teaspoons Diamond Krystal kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper.

½ bunch flat leaf parsley, washed and chopped

Procedure:

  1. Make Stock.  Remove chicken meat from bones.  Reserve one chicken breast for other uses.  Carefully pick through meat to make sure you didn’t miss any bones.  Chop chicken meat and set aside in the refrigerator.  Place the bones in a small stock pot or dutch oven.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Turn the heat to low, and simmer bones for 3-6 hours, depending on the desired depth of the stock.  Add water as needed as the stock reduces.  Once the stock is finished.  Allow it to cool and strain it through a fine mesh sieve.  This step can be done a day or two in advance.
  2. Get another pot or dutch oven hot over the stove. Add the olive oil.  Add the vegetables and 3 teaspoons of the salt, and one teaspoon pepper. Slowly cook the vegetables, stirring often, until they start to release their water.  At this point add the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring until the vegetables are translucent and slightly tender.
  3. Add the stock to the pot of vegetables. Add the chopped chicken, and remaining salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a simmer, cooking for 20-30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together.  Finish the soup with the parsley.    Soup will keep up to five days in the refrigerator and three months in the freezer.