On Stepping Back and Shutting Off

I am of the belief that there are different levels of tired.  At the bottom is the kind of tired that falls upon us after a poor night’s sleep or a particularly busy day.  As you move up, the levels get more intense.  There are levels that come when those sleepless nights have started to pile up, when life is hitting us extra hard, and when our health is poor.  And, of course, there is level that one might reach when many of things collide.

Given that I’ve had chronic insomnia and poor sleep since puberty, I’m used to the low-grade levels of tired.  I live in them.  It’s my normal and I’ve made peace with that.  Sometimes, though, my level rises and I know I need to permit myself some extra care and rest.  Generally, it’s dealt with quickly and I return to my norm.  But, lately, that hasn’t been working.

I am tired.  Like, really tired.

josh on beach black and white

My body is okay – better than okay, actually.  Running still feels good.  I don’t have any weird aches or pains, but as for my brain?  Well, that’s a different story.  I’ve been the kind of tired that I most feel in my head.  I’ve been feeling scattered.  I have trouble focusing on things.  I’m quick to be irritated (okay, I may be quick to be irritated most of the time anyway).  And, my creativity is waning.

This is all stuff I don’t like one bit.  Nope.  Not a fan of it at all.

This is also why I’ve only posted a few times over the last month.  Such minimal blogging isn’t my norm and I know it won’t become my norm – but it may be one temporary part of giving myself a bit of much needed down time.

I know that one of the major causes of my current funk is my state of chronic busyness.  I am always busy and my mind is always racing.  I jump from a full day’s work to a workout to my second job to cooking meals to blogging to running errands to appointments to housework and so on – with little time to just stop and breathe.  Some of this is absolutely necessary (work and more work) and some of it is self-induced (me trying to squeeze in the activities that actually bring me joy and satisfaction) and some of it is just, well, dumb (me believing that I always have to be multitasking – one project at a time is never good enough).

So, in light of all this, I’m trying a few things to take a little better care of myself, get my spark back, and clear my head.  They include:

  1. Shutting off/Disconnecting – I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels constantly tied to an electronic device.  Frankly, I love them but sometimes they’re draining.  Between two computer-heavy jobs, blogging, and general news and communication, I too often am staring a screen.  This is why my blogging has been a bit less lately – I need a little break from those screens right now.  And, maybe I won’t read ALL the news of the world and it will still be okay.   
  2. Less multi-tasking – Building off of #1 above, I am always juggling multiple things, taking in and shooting out information and energy from a variety of sources.  I am really feeling the need to ease up on this.  It’s good to give one project (and only one project) my attention sometimes.  And if that means something else has to wait a while, that will just have to work itself out.
  3. Re-prioritizing – Often in my brain EVERYTHING IS SO IMPORTANT.  But, really, it’s not.
  4. Being kind to myself – Oh, I’m so bad at this.  So very bad.  I expect way more out of myself than I would ever expect out of others, setting high expectations and then becoming angry when I don’t always meet them.  This is an ongoing project.  If you have tips, I’m happy to hear them!
  5. Allowing space for nothing – This is also extremely difficult for me.  If I sit and do ‘nothing’ for even 30 minutes, I generally become anxious, thinking about what needs to be done and feeling lazy for doing those things.  Recently, I’ve been trying to put everything else away and either enjoy a television show that makes me laugh or lose myself in a book (I read often – but generally on the bus, while eating, or waiting for something – rarely just any old time of day).  These are simple pleasures that help me unwind and disconnect and I’m trying to remember that they are just as valuable to my life as finishing the next task.

What I won’t change is finding small spaces for the things that already work to rejuvenate me – running, connecting with you all kind people, enjoying a nice meal with others.  These things are keepers.

So, this is my plan, friends.  I’m feeling optimistic about it and am hoping that it will help me get my mojo back (Yes – I did just say that.  Give me a break, please, I’m tired!)

A Move Eat Create Medley: Looking Back At Some Favorite Posts

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been at this blogging thing for a bit over a year now.  I decided to take a few minutes to look through the content I’ve been putting up and to see which posts have been the most popular.  Like any good blog-mom, all my posts are special to me, and it was interesting to see which ones seem to have most resonated with others.

Here, in no particular order, are the top contenders.  Missed any of them?  Click through the links to get caught up and see what they are all about.

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burrito sliced - edited

Me nearing finish 4 - edited

Foodie Firsts: Drinking Vinegars

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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I’ve been curious about the concept of drinking vinegar since I first spotted a bottle last year.  Given that it’s nearly July, it clearly took me a while to get around to actually trying some.  If you all only knew how many random things I have in my head that I want to try at any given time (things to cook, eat, write, learn, do, read about, etc), you’d understand the delay.

Long delay aside, this week was the week for drinking vinegars.

Exciting, right??

Yeah???

Let’s get crazy.

Pok Pok - edited

Because, honestly, drinking vinegars are a bit crazy if you ask me.  I love vinegar, but the concept of sipping on the stuff, as opposed to enjoying it on my vegetables or in a sauce, seems a bit mad.

The practice of drinking vinegar goes way back.  There are many reported health benefits of vinegar, including detoxification, better digestion, and the delivery of microbial properties to ward off illness, so you can see the potential allure.  Now, many folks choose to simply drink straight apple cider vinegar as part of their regular routine, but the trend of late in the foodie and bar scene has been to experience specially made and flavored drinking vinegars, also called shrubs.  Such drinking vinegars can be tossed back on their own, added to other beverages to make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, or used to dress a salad, for instance.

For my little foray into this food scene, I tested four distinct flavors of drinking vinegar from two different makers.

Bragg makes several varieties that are affordable and fairly easy to find.  I decided to pick up apple-cinnamon, apple cider vinegar and honey, and concord grape-acai.  Then, I splurged on a fancy, artisanal bottle of raspberry drinking vinegar made locally by (now nationally famous) chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok.

bottles on table 3 - edited

First up: a simple sampling.  I wanted to taste each one on its own accord, without influence of other flavors or ingredients.  I’ve got to say, it was more of a pleasant experience than I originally thought it might be.  I was worried the flavors would be too harsh and acidic, but enjoyed the sampling more than I had anticipated.  Here are my thoughts on each flavor:

  1. Apple-Cinnamon – I found this one to be mellow and smooth and very far from what traditional vinegar tastes like.  My instant thought with this one was:  “I don’t really want to drink this, but I totally want to bake with it.”
  2. Apple Cider & Honey – The honey flavor in this was strong and hit me from the second the vinegar touched my tongue.  If you’re a fan of honey, jump on this one.  This also wasn’t one I really wanted to drink alone, but again baking comes to mind (maybe I just really need some muffins right now).  As far as drinking though, I think this would be quite nice for a sore throat – you know the whole honey thing?  Seems appropriate to me for some reason.
  3. Concord Grape-Acai – This was tasty!  Totally reminiscent of grape juice or long lost memories of grape kool-aid (yep, I drank that as a kid).  The flavor was strong and sweet, but not overpowering.  My mind went instantly to a tumbler filled with ice, this vinegar, seltzer water and dry gin or vodka.  Maybe with a squeeze of lemon.  Modern gin and juice, anyone?
  4. Raspberry – Sharp, tart, thick on the tongue, undercut with a sweetness.  I think this is my favorite.  I could down this alone (though in small amounts – it is strong) or dress some spinach with it.  And I most definitely could turn this into a terrific mixed drink.  I bet it would not only taste fantastic, but would be a beautiful cocktail to sip on a warm night.

Next, I tried dressing my nightly salad with a few splashes of the apple cider & honey flavor.  I also drizzled a small amount of hazelnut oil on this salad, with (of course) salt and pepper.  I really loved this combination.  I was pleased by the contrast of the nuttiness from the hazelnut oil with the slight sweet, yet tart, flavor brought by the vinegar.  Not bad.  Not bad at all. I will say my dining companion used olive oil combined with the concord grape-acai vinegar and felt the vinegar got a bit lost, so you may need to play around with the ratios of these ingredients to get it right for you.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I definitely think mixed drinks are a way to go here and there are infinite combinations that could be made (for some cordial glasses 3 - editedinspiration, check out this article).  I also suspect that these flavors would be great in sauces and in baking.  I’m thinking of using the apple cinnamon when making muffins or an apple spice cake, for instance.  And, the raspberry seems to be screaming to be heated into a sauce (maybe with some lemon juice or rich sweetener, like dates) for pouring over a (raw, vegan) cheesecake or (non-dairy) ice cream.  I’m totally intrigued by the possibilities.

Lessons Learned:  This is a simple one for me this week: Don’t judge a book by its cover, or more accurately, don’t judge an ingredient by its name.  Just the word vinegar sounds tart, maybe sour, definitely acidic and sharp.  But these drinking vinegars carried a whole range of complex flavors – sweet, smooth, bold, tangy.  I was surprised by this week’s food adventure and was forced to think of something so commonly understood in one way as something totally new, and isn’t that what this is all about?

Foodie Firsts: Mung Beans

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Another bean is on the agenda this week.  This time I’m talking about mung beans.  Mung beans, from my perspective, are rarely used in American households (they certainly were in mine) and it’s a shame.

A sad, sad shame.

Why?

dry in bowl - edited

Well, mung beans (also called moong beans) are fantastic.  I knew next to nothing about these tiny green/yellow legumes when I set out to cook with them, but I quickly learned that they are incredibly versatile.  Quite frankly, given how many things you can do with them, I’m surprised they are not more of a kitchen staple.  Maybe I need to start a ‘Eat Your Mung Beans’ campaign.

Mung means can be made sweet or savory, cooked whole or broken down, turned into dal or bread, sprouted, or broken down into a paste.  Clearly, they are flexible little things.  I obviously didn’t have time to try all of these manifestations for today’s post, but I did decide to commit to trying mung beans in two different preparations.  I went with a basic savory dish and also tried my hand with bread making in the form of dosas.

I should also mention that mung beans are incredibly healthful.  Like their other various bean cousins, they are a low-glycemic food, are great sources of protein and fiber, and have cancer fighting properties (protease inhibitors).  So, hooray for health!  (I see my campaign coming to life.)

Of the two mung bean dishes I tried, one was successful and one was  . . . not so successful.  Why don’t we start with the good news first?

I decided to combine some of my mung beans with lentils and prepare a dal, as this is one of the most traditional uses of this ingredient.  Also, dal is delicious and I’ll eat it pretty much whenever I can.  So, there’s that.

meal plated 2 - edited

I loved the mung beans this way and found them incredibly easy to work with.  They partnered well with the red lentils and created a tasty and satisfying dinner.  I’ve seen mixed notes on whether or not mung beans need to be soaked overnight (as you might with other dried beans).  I’m sure you could do so, but I will say that I skipped this and they cooked up wonderfully without any soaking whatsoever.

As for the dosas . . . well, I will try them again.  In all honesty, I think the problems I had with them were entirely my fault and not the fault of the recipe or the ingredients.  I had never eaten nor prepared any type of dosa before, so it was a new process.  They actually had good flavor, but the thickness, size, and texture was off.  Dosas are meant to be large, thin discs of bread, but my batter didn’t seem to spread very much and instead of forcing it to, I just went forward and made them thicker than they should have been.  The result was disappointing, as they didn’t fully cook through well and had an undercooked, too doughy consistency in the middle.  In the future, I think thinning the batter a bit with water will be necessary.

Yet another cooking lesson learned, I suppose.

Regardless of my less than stellar dosa making skills, I’m definitely pro-mung bean.  I’ll be adding them into my repertoire and will likely swap them for lentils from time to time to add a bit more variety in my kitchen.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I highly recommend going the traditional route and using mung beans to make a dal.  Use your favorite dal recipe dosa - edited(there are plenty out there) or try this one here, which I used as a basis for the one I made.

I also just saw this blog post pop up from Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks and think a mung bean hummus is a wonderful idea.

Get sprouting!  I haven’t sprouted my own beans yet (maybe this is a future endeavor for me), but I know enough to know that it can be done in any home kitchen.  Sprouts are delicious added to salads and wraps and I especially love the crunch they give to a good stir fry or bowl of noodle soup (like pho).

Lessons Learned:  The world of beans is an endless bounty of delicious and nutritious foods.  A different variety exists for even the smallest preferences in color, texture, size, and taste.  I love this.  When I think about how many times, since becoming a vegetarian and switching to a mostly whole foods/minimally processed foods diet, I have read or heard others ask the inevitable questions about my ways of eating (You know the ones:  Where do you get your protein?  What do you possibly eat as a main dish?  Do you just eat salads all day?), I have to laugh and think about things like this.  I understand the questions – really I do.  I would have asked them once, too.  But, it’s funny to me now.  All the foods I have discovered in the last year, the delicious dishes I have savored, and the ingredients I have become infatuated with have only broadened my culinary world – not limited it.

Interested in Natural Ways to Fight Off Inflammation?

Happy Saturday!  I hope the rest of you are having the kind of beautiful day we are having in Portland!

I wanted to drop in to share a link to a fantastic blog and a guest post that I wrote about natural remedies for inflammation (for both acute city road - editedinflammation, such as from an injury or exercise, and chronic inflammation, as in the case of persistent tendonitis or other conditions).

The post is up over at the EcoGrrl blog here.  I invite you to check it out and while you’re there poke around.  EcoGrrl’s header will tell you that she values simplicity, discovery, sustainability, equity, and creativity – all great things, right?  It’s a virtual treasure trove of useful information about food, wellness, and whole living, plus there’s great photography, and a variety of other interesting reads, as well!